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Lakes Foundation promotes stewardship

Above: Mike Katzenmeyer, chair of the Fairmont Lakes Foundation, is pictured in front of one of Fairmont’s five lakes, Amber Lake.

FAIRMONT — With the Chain of Lakes being one of Fairmont’s most noticeable and flattering assets, it’s important to do what we can to maintain and enhance them. Fairmont Lakes Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit organization formed to promote the stewardship of Fairmont’s lakes.

Its general purpose is to lead and educate the community and its visitors to take responsibility for the quality and care of the city’s lakes while increasing awareness of the need to preserve and enhance the value of these natural resources.

Mike Katzenmeyer is the chair of the Fairmont Lakes Foundation. He spoke to the Fairmont City Council on Monday and shared a little about how the foundation really took off.

In 2011 he saw Albert Lea had received a grant for $600,000 for improvements in their lake. He went to Martin Soil and Water to see if they could access grants for Fairmont Lakes and they applied for a fresh water grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. With the grant, the fresh water society put on workshops in Fairmont that were available to all lake associations.

“In 2012 we decided we needed to reconstitute the lakes foundation and in 2013, we amended the bylaws to allow 11 board members and membership was extended,” Katzenmeyer said.

Right now, it’s $50 for an annual membership and $500 for a lifetime membership. The money goes toward the foundation’s various projects. Katzenmeyer estimated the group has 90 annual members and 30 lifetime members.

“We remain the lone advocate voice for our reservoir and advocacy is a work in progress,” Katzenmeyer said.

Katzenmeyer said the foundation funds a brochure in the visitors guide, which is distributed to all rest areas on I90. He said the brochure is good advertising for Fairmont’s lakes.

They also fund a brochure which includes their mission statement and facts about all five of Fairmont’s lakes, including the size and depth of each, boat access points, fishing pier locations and the fish in each lake.

Katzenmeyer said while water quality improvement is a main focus of the foundation’s, carp abatement has been another top focus.

“Through the DNR, we have planted over 3,000 sunfish in this reservoir. Sunfish eat carp eggs and at the time when we were talking about a decimation of our Northern population here in our reservoir because of the pollution of Dutch Creek, which was a main spawning bed for our Northern population, we had almost zero apex predators in the lakes,” he explained.

Katzenmeyer said they made a plan with the DNR to stock the lakes with 314 muskies every two years.

“We will continue to do that until the surveys the DNR does show the muskie populations has taken hold,” Katzenmeyer said.

He said he continues to get good feedback from fishermen in the area.

“Another thing we’ve wanted to try to do is educate people in Fairmont that live on the lake to the value of shore and vegetation,” Katzenmeyer said.

He said Martin Soil and Water can help people if they want to put in bulrush and other shoreline vegetation. He said shoreline vegetation not only protects the shoreline from erosion, but also provides habitat for panfish so they can continue to feed on carp eggs.

Several years ago, the Fairmont Lakes Foundation won $50,000 in a contest that Michelob Golden Light did.

“Fairmont got behind this. One night Dan Danks at the Channel Inn set up computers at the bar and customers came in and all voted for Fairmont and we won that thing throughout the whole state,” Katzenmeyer said.

With the money, Katzenmeyer said they purchased a fishing pier to put in at the south end of Amber Lake, a dock to put in at the north end of Hall Lake and a dock for Bird Park.

“Part of our mission was to increase accessibility for people who don’t have boats but live in town, visit town and want to use the lakes,” Katzenmeyer said.

They have also put in the kayak kiosk at Gomsrud Park by Budd Lake and several kayak launches, one on Amber Lake and one on Budd Lake.

“All these projects couldn’t have happened without the support of the city and the council,” Katzenmeyer said.

The Foundation typically does two lake clean-ups a year, one in the spring and one in early fall. The city donates trucks to haul away the debris collected and Katzenmeyer said Pheasants Forever always brings 20 to 30 people to help. Other volunteers typically show up as well.

“The lake clean-ups were a necessity we put into place because of battling generational littering,” Katzenmeyer said.

Unfortunately, Katzenmeyer said they have taken water softener tanks, a paddle boat, tires and other large debris from the lakes. He said there’s still a car body on the east shore of Budd Lake that’s likely been there for 80 years.

Katzenmeyer talked about a study the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency did, which Martin County participated in, that was released in 2020. A key finding was the high nitrate level in Dutch Creek. Katzenmeyer said Dutch Creek watershed has listed impairments dating to 1998.

Dutch Creek starts in Welcome and goes across ag land and brings with it a mix of nitrates phosphates and silt. Dutch Creek enters Hall Lake and the silt deposits create a sand bar.

An upstream project is happening now where a holding pond is being put in. Katzenmeyer said the DNR is helping with the project so that spawning beds don’t get disrupted.

However, Katzenmeyer said nothing has been done downstream at the mouth where it enters the lake, which is the issue. Katzenmeyer said several years ago, a hydrologist for the DNR came down and inspected the site and said the area could be dredged out at the mouth after permits were applied for.

Without being dredged, stagnant water will gather and spawn into blue green algae, which can be poisonous to people and fatal to animals.

As for ways people can aid the Fairmont Lake Foundation, Katzenmeyer said, “that’s easy, we need to keep the lakes as a priority to the leaders in the community because they are the greatest asset that we have in the city. They’re a fantastic draw for Fairmont and fantastic recruiting tool for Fairmont. Our mission is to try to get people to respect that and be good advocates for the lakes.”

More information on Fairmont Lakes Foundation can be found at fairmontlakesfoundation.com.

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