For a town built around a lake, I was surprised at the lack of people on the water when I saw Lake Menomin for the first time. Two boats, one person fishing — and no one swimming. It wasn’t until I heard more about the toxicity, smell and blue-green algae that I got a sense of how people view it in the summer.
In one of the first conversations I had, I learned that the lake turns green and gives off a bad stench. Little did I know that that would be the theme of several more conversations, among many different groups of people. The green water and smell drive many people away from what should be a beautiful asset to the city if there were cleaner, clearer lakes.
Several of the business owners I spoke with expressed that the smell gets so bad they keep their windows and doors shut, and people don’t go downtown as frequently.
It’s apparent the lake is influential on the community. My research focused on the impact that cleaner Lakes Menomin and Tainter would have on the local economy.
I surveyed Menomonie citizens, businesses, UW-Stout staff and students to gain a better understanding of how these groups would be impacted if Lakes Menomin and Tainter were cleaner and usable during the summer.
Results showed that the lakes are currently being used below their potential. If the lakes were cleaner, 50 percent of those surveyed said they would fish more, 60 percent would boat more, and 72 percent said they would swim more. Approximately 40 percent said they would visit downtown more frequently.
It is clear that lake recreation would flourish and, with more visitors downtown, local businesses would expect to grow.
One question I asked students was whether or not they would stay in Menomonie during the summer if the lakes were usable. Currently, about 26 percent of survey respondents already stay. An additional 33 percent of students said they would be much more likely or definitely would stay. This would translate to an additional 2,700 students and a much more vibrant summer economy.
I then asked businesses questions about what a typical summer month looks like for them, including revenue, employment and their clientele, followed by a question asking them to forecast what changes in employment and revenue they would expect if about 2,700 more students were to stay.
Retail, restaurants and accommodations, and services projected the most growth, with an average of 25 percent growth in summer revenue and 46 percent growth in summer jobs in these sectors. This is about $36.6 million in additional revenue and 1,500 jobs.
These are conservative predictions since other industries would also experience a positive response. The small local businesses most directly effected in these retail and service sectors tend to retain most of these additional revenue dollars within the local economy.
As the additional revenue continues to cycle through these sectors — as well as other areas such as real estate and financial services — the local multiplier effect could be expected to double or triple the impact of those dollars in the Menomonie and Dunn County economies and benefit more and more businesses – even those not directly impacted by tourism or student clientele.
The benefits are simple yet important: people would increase their lake use, a large portion of students would stay, and businesses would experience meaningful growth.
The problem will only be reversed when policy makers and community members are able to decide on the best course of action. However, from the conversations I had and the results I received, there is such a strong sense from the community for a desire for change. I hope my research contributes to keeping the conversations about water quality going.