Melanie Ford

Melanie Ford

I remember how Lake Menomin complemented Menomonie as we first drove pass it on our way to the dorms. Being in the center of the town, I had originally thought the lake would be filled with swimmers, boaters and more. But to my surprise, the lake was hardly being used.

I understood the lake had algal blooms, but for the first five weeks the water was deep blue, clear and seemed just as usable as any other lake. During our first week, our professors mentioned how popular the lake was in the winter and how it is filled with lots of activities, people, food, beer and fun. Where was this in the summer?

Then and now

After hearing oral histories regarding how the lake used to be central to summer activities in Menomoine in the 60s, 70s and even 80s, I became interested in understanding how the polluted lake impacted business and tourism in Menomonie. Residents often spoke about how they used to swim at Wakanda Beach when they were younger with their friends and families, and how much of a community center the lake used to be with more visitors and lake-centered businesses.

I was curious to see how and why this declined and what the future potential a clean lake could hold for local business, tourism and the Menomonie community. I interviewed several business owners and others who were associated with the tourism industry in the city and in Dunn County to better understand how pollution affects Menomonie in the summer.

One finding was that some in the business community said the algal blooms during the summer months negatively impact business. In addition, some also expressed frustration about the progress of lake clean-up efforts and perceived policy actors as being unsupportive.

These two findings are not surprising, but they helped to support my third and most significant finding — that most of those I interviewed did not discuss the lake at all when discussing positive attributes of Menomonie. Many would talk about all the other wonderful things Menomonie has to offer, such as the Red Cedar bike trail, the historic Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts and more, but the lake never made their list as a potential selling point.

While many may agree that Lake Menomin is not a tourist attraction during the summer, the most surprising part about these interviews was that people expressed fatalism towards the progress of the lake’s water quality and its future integration as a vibrant community space.

Other lake-centered communities were even brought up as examples of why Menomonie would never become a vibrant tourist destination. Because there was too much competition with other lake cities, Lake Menomin was perceived as being too small, and the land surrounding the lake was not developed to enhance the view of lake or its qualities. More specifically, those in the tourism industry expressed other focuses that Menomonie could work towards instead, such as agri-tourism and its growing biking community.

Working with the lake

As I took a step back and looked at my research data, it was clear that the business community is largely working around the lake rather than working with it.

At the LAKES REU event at The Raw Deal in August, many asked me how to turn around this fatalism or how to reincorporate the lake back into Menomonie community. I agree with my interviewees who discussed Menomonie’s culture of sustainability as a community asset, mentioning their enhanced biking facilities, growing revenue in agritourism, and plans to move towards a more sustainable downtown area.

Since Menomonie is becoming more of a sustainable city, I suggest using the lake as one aspect of promoting Menomonie as a sustainable city. As the efforts and research to clean the lake expand, using the state of the lake as an educational opportunity could help support and shape Menomonie as a sustainable city.

Lastly, the business community should become more involved in working to clean up the lake. Using the lake as a unique point to spread awareness and bringing Menomonie’s community together can help to overcome the sense of fatalism that is present.

The LAKES REU and my experiences this summer — from seeing the Aurora Borealis for the first time, to driving a tractor, to getting to understand Menomoine’s citizens — have been an unforgettable chapter of my life. I would like to thank everyone who took their time to educate me, interview with me, and provide suggestions on the direction and progress of my research.

As I sit in California and reflect on this summer, I feel hopeful for Lake Menomin and the Menomonie community. I distinctly remember, at the end of one of my interviews, that I told my interviewee that I was extremely hopeful for this project and for the future of Lake Menomin. He told me that I had spoken like at true young person, but I can only hope that he is wrong and that more people each year regain hope for the future of this lake — not only for lake’s water quality but to bring back the particular sense of community that was once created by Lake Menomin.

Melanie Ford is a senior majoring in Anthropology at University of California-Riverside in Riverside, Calif.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

(4) comments

Lyenel

Until the dams are opened, I would not feel hopeful for this lake. I have lived in Menomonie for 14+years and it gets worse every year. By the end of the summer, there is 1-3 foot layer of green on the top of the lake. Well most of the lake is only 8-12 feet deep, so that doesn't leave a lot of room. Last year when we had the streaks of 95 degrees plus days of heat, you couldn't even drive down by the library. /gross

Spacemoonman

Been reading all of these Water Works articles but I have not seen a good cost analysis for what it would take for the lake to be useful again in the summer months. There were past articles about spending between 100-500K on dredging a small portion of which almost everyone thinks is a terrible idea and other options also seem very costly considering the stigma and the fact that it will never go entirely away when the temps get high.
I know there used to be a well known triathlon called Tinman in the area that I heard about before I moved here and it would be cool to see one put on in June when the water still might be ok for swimming.
I guess it would be interesting to see what it would take to get the lake back to being unusable for only a short predictable timeframe so you could have events and recreating planned for June and early July.

Milton

I thought these articles were a little disappointing as well. There was a lot of "Everyone needs to get involved, everyone needs to understand what's going on" but no real policy proposals, outside of the most basic platitudes. Yeah, politicians need to work together. Sure, businesses should take some responsibility. Oh, if the lake was clean and clear we'd have more economic activity? Shocking! But it's one of the most polluted lakes in Wisconsin. What are your proposals for a solution? Dredge? Drain? Restrict agriculture? Curtail run-off? Close the turkey plant in Barron? Are there EPA superfund monies that can be accessed? What are the cost of your proposals? Be specific, please.

Joseshot

I agree Milton it really did not suggest anything. I don't think we got our monies worth out of this one at all. I would like to see the EPA use this as an example and actually do something. If you had this problem on your property and it effected one person they would be all over it

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