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.