Editorial: Recreation area to bolster Oronoco

Published 9:44 am Friday, August 23, 2013

Nature did its best to reclaim the Zumbro River watershed in September 2010, when a wall of water ripped through and around the Lake Shady dam in Oronoco.

Nearly three years later, the Olmsted County Board has agreed it’s time to finish what nature started by removing the dam, restoring the river’s original course and creating a recreation area that we believe will bring new energy and tourism — and their dollars — to Oronoco.

We can’t wait.

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For years, that stretch of U.S. 52 north of Rochester was a mirage. From the highway, Lake Shady looked pristine and beautiful, yet passersby seldom saw a boat or canoe on its waters. Those who took the time to drive into town and check out the lake soon discovered the problem. The lake was little more than a mudflat under two feet of water (and it didn’t smell particularly good, either).

The handful of homeowners whose residences dotted the shoreline weren’t responsible for the silt that had filled the lake and ruined its recreational uses. Similarly, they were powerless to fix a problem that would require millions of dollars to repair — until the river took matters into its own hands and rendered moot all discussions of dredging and lake restoration.

We’re convinced this will turn out to be a happy accident. The recreation area that will rise from the former lake bed should be a showplace, a top destination for birders, walkers, picnickers, anglers, bicyclists and paddlers of canoes and kayaks. When Olmsted County asks the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for $1.5 million to complete the park, it should be a slam-dunk. One could hardly draw up a project that better fits the goals and purposes of the Legacy Act.

When the park is complete, Olmsted County will feature four distinct natural areas: Chester Woods Park to the east, Oxbow Park to the west, Root River Park to the south and the new Oronoco recreation area to the north.

We still won’t have any natural lakes, but we’ll have no shortage of places to enjoy the great outdoors.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, Aug. 19

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