TUPPER: Lake reverence resurgent in city“This Kiwanis Woodlot we dedicate to you,” the plaque says, “to you who believe that trees and flowers, rocks, rivers, lakes and skies are beautiful thoughts made manifest, reflecting God’s love and care for his children. This, to us, is sacred ground.”
By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic
One of the most eloquent tributes to public conservation I’ve ever encountered is on a plaque affixed to a large rock at Mitchell’s own Kiwanis Woodlot Park.
“This Kiwanis Woodlot we dedicate to you,” it says, “to you who believe that trees and flowers, rocks, rivers, lakes and skies are beautiful thoughts made manifest, reflecting God’s love and care for his children. This, to us, is sacred ground.”
The plaque is dated May 25, 1930. At that time, the waterway just beyond the woodlot, Lake Mitchell, had only recently been created by a dam on Firesteel Creek. The nearby amphitheater apparently did not exist but would soon be carved from a hillside along the lakeshore. A woman named Celia Kelley was about to plant a stand of pine trees on the opposite side of the lake that has since grown into a mini-forest.
From only that plaque and those few examples, it’s clear the people of 1930s Mitchell held their lake in high esteem and took seriously their responsibility to balance its natural beauty with opportunities for public enjoyment.
During the ensuing eight decades, Mitchell’s love affair with its lake faded. The lake continued to be used and appreciated by some, but there were doubtless few people associating the lake area with beautiful thoughts, God’s love and sacred ground.
In recent years, though, Mitchell’s attitude toward the lake has returned to something resembling that earlier reverence. I trace this development to 2003, when a Missouri River pipeline replaced Lake Mitchell as the city’s water source.
Before that happened, Lake Mitchell was more of a reservoir than a lake. Though it obviously had secondary benefits, its primary purpose was meeting the daily water needs of nearly 15,000 people.
With the arrival of Missouri River water, the lake’s purpose changed. It was freed from its duty as a reservoir to become a real and true lake, with recreation as its main reason for continued existence.
People began to view the lake differently, and things began to happen. At about the same time Mitchell’s city leaders were switching to Missouri River water, they got serious about attacking the algae in Lake Mitchell. The assault continues to this day with debatable success, but it proves people care about the lake.
In 2008, local entrepreneur and philanthropist Gordon Thomsen proposed the construction of a fixed-seat performance facility in the amphitheater. It didn’t take, but it sparked a cleanup effort and the installation of electrical hookups.
In 2009, the Mitchell City Council revamped the committee assigned to oversee the lake, and results quickly followed. Long-forgotten and neglected hiking trails connecting the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, amphitheater and Kiwanis Woodlot Park were revived; an Adopt-an-Access Area program was established; a handicap-accessible fishing pier was constructed. Numerous other projects also were undertaken, and the committee remains active.
Other arms of city government have also pitched in. This summer, the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department overhauled a public beach, rapidly transforming it from an eyesore to a hotspot.
A similar transformation has occurred in that mini-forest planted so many years ago by Celia Kelley. After it was the subject of a failed land swap in 2009 that nearly placed it in private ownership, some outraged local residents channeled their energy into making the forest publicly accessible. They’ve cleared nature trails, added benches and created a parking area with a sign reading “Celia Kelley Pine Forest, Est. 1932.”
The anger over the proposed swap hasn’t been the only fight to erupt over lake issues. Lately, some people have been at odds with city government over a proposed project at the Sportsman’s Club.
That’s OK. It shows, once again, that people care about the lake.
Watching all this unfold has made me care about the lake, too. Sunday, my son and I took our first hike through the pine forest, and I thought about that message in Kiwanis Woodlot Park and its conception of nature areas as “beautiful thoughts made manifest.”
That philosophy is resurgent in Mitchell, and our lake and our city are better because of it.