FREEBORN, Minn. – June 30, 2020 – Ducks Unlimited supporters, partners and members of the public on Saturday celebrated the transformation of Freeborn Lake from pea green soup into a clean, welcoming habitat for wildlife and people.
An open house dedication capped off the enhancement of Freeborn Lake and recognized the impact of Ducks Unlimited’s Living Lakes Initiative.
Since 1909, Freeborn Lake in southern Minnesota had been struggling to survive. That was the year the outlet of this 2,222-acre shallow lake was dammed to control flooding, prevent drought-like conditions in the lake and promote farming downstream.
The dam held water and supported new agriculture, but an unintended consequence was a less resilient lake with water levels unable to naturally fluctuate with wet and dry seasons. After invasive common carp took over, plants died and water quality diminished. Fluorescent green water, choked with algae, hosted scarce wildlife and little to no vegetation.
In 2014, Freeborn County leaders and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources turned to Ducks Unlimited for a solution. The answer was replacing the aging, failing dam with a modern water-control structure. The design also includes a fish barrier, which prevents invasive fish from entering the lake, destroying vegetation and resuspending bottom nutrients. Today, for the first time in more than 100 years, the lake is a clean, healthy body of water for ducks and residents.
Local Ducks Unlimited volunteer and donor Mark Jenzen was elated to see the progress on Saturday.
“Freeborn Lake back in the 1970s was a wonderful staging area for mallards, but it was on a steady decline and the water quality only got worse,” Jenzen said. “It was so rewarding this weekend to take my children out here, show them the new vegetation and to see how clean the water has become.”
The project was engineered and constructed by Ducks Unlimited in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Freeborn County.
“The DNR is grateful for the partnership with Ducks Unlimited,” said Minnesota DNR regional wildlife manager Dave Trauba. “It’s through partnerships like this that help ensure healthy habitat, clean water and abundant wildlife populations for generations to come.”
More than 50 guests attended the unique open house dedication event, designed with COVID-19 safeguards in place. Guests dropped in over a four-hour period and maintained social distancing over a wide area as they toured the conservation project.
According to the Minnesota DNR, the lake is an important migratory stop for waterfowl and other waterbirds. Coots and other waterfowl, including mallards and diving ducks, are common in spring and fall migration, but numbers are limited by the lack of food in the lake. At least 20 species of greatest conservation need use shallow lake habitats throughout Minnesota.
The lake is crucial for people, too. Freeborn Lake has about 16 miles of shoreline with a mixture of residential areas, farmland, park and conservation lands, forests, wetlands, public rights-of-way and a golf course. The lake has a strong hunting heritage, but one that has suffered throughout the years as water quality decreased.
The project was funded in large part through a 2014 Minnesota state appropriation from Minnesota’s Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Also funding the project are Freeborn County and a grant recently recommended by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council.
Freeborn Lake is one of several recent DU wetlands success stories in Minnesota. Historically Ducks Unlimited has invested more than $4.5 million to protect, enhance or restore more than 227,000 acres of habitat across the state. DU’s Living Lakes Initiative conserves managed shallow lakes and wetlands from central Iowa through northern Minnesota.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 14.5 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org.