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Identifying goals for Lake Mitchell — leaders, public gather for improvement discussion

Lake Mitchell from Kibbee Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)

North Dakota State University professors spearheading the Lake Mitchell Community Use Plan met with city officials Tuesday evening to identify common goals for improving the lake.

Following the Parks and Recreation Board meeting at City Hall, the NDSU professors encouraged members of the Mitchell City Council and Parks and Recreation Board to present their ideas and suggestions for helping improve water quality and recreation opportunities at Lake Mitchell.

“We were pleased with the amount of people who filled out the survey, but we want to get a better idea of what you as city leaders would like to see improve Lake Mitchell,” said Matthew Kirkwood, NDSU architecture and landscape program director, who is leading the project. “Identifying goals for spurring more recreation on the lake is a key element of our plan, but looking for ways to improve the water quality takes precedent.”

The Lake Mitchell Community Use Plan kicked off in late May with a public survey on the city of Mitchell’s website, which Kirkwood said saw a total of 621 surveyors. The lake use plan came together after Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell secured a $15,000 grant to work with NDSU on the project.

Yang Song, assistant professor of NDSU’s landscape and architecture program, is the other plan leader who detailed some of the survey findings.

“All the questions associated with water quality are dominating most of the concerns from surveyors,” Song said. “A lot of people who surveyed feel the attraction of the lake is deteriorating due to water quality.”

Kirkwood provided a handout to city officials at the meeting, which asks them to identify specific areas that are primary concerns for improving the lake.  

“I want you to be surveyed so you can inform us in order for us to make the right decisions for the lake and the city,” Kirkwood said. “We want to look at water, and the parks around the lake and how they can be improved?”

The survey handed out at the meeting, along with the public survey -- which is available throughout the duration of the summer -- will help guide the NDSU professors and students in developing a “viable” working plan that will help map out future goals for improving Lake Mitchell, Kirkwood said.

“At some point, we feel there is a serious need to address the water quality issue,” Kirkwood said. “Whether that’s through dredging, we have to clean the water to a certain point in order to get more recreation and water activity at the lake.”

In addition, Parks and Recreation Board President Ryan Tupper presented ideas for improving the lake’s existing boat dock access.

Tupper suggested the NDSU project leaders delve into exploring avenues for mapping out better options for boat ramps around the lake.

“It’s not uncommon that you would see 15 boats lined up to launch into the water at the Indian Village boat dock, and not a single boat at the West End Bridge dock,” Tupper said.

Tupper believes providing a launch area for canoes and kayaks would help spur more recreation on the lake.

Providing an example of the impact of the lake’s ongoing water quality issues, Tupper said the rental of facilities around Lake Mitchell such as the Sportsmans Club meeting space and Camp Arroya have seen less traffic over the past several years.

The city’s recent $4.1 million land purchase that’s in the process of becoming a wetland to help improve the water quality by reducing the phosphorus and sediment flowing into the lake from Firesteel Creek is included in the Lake Mitchell Community Use Plan and was a focal point of discussion.

According to Kirkwood, there were several interesting ideas for recreation around the wetland that stood out. Although he didn’t present the ideas, Kirkwood asked city officials if there was interest in using the 10 acres of land that the near $2.5 million house sits on.

In response, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the city’s intent to sell the house remains, but he’s open to ideas from the NDSU project leaders.

“The home-owner has 30 months to live on the property, so I would entertain some of your ideas,” Everson said. “That’s not to say we would go through with it, but I’m interested.”

The NDSU project leaders will now spend time compiling data collected from both surveys to begin developing the lake use plan over the next eight months.

“I’m excited for this, and we are looking forward to providing a viable lake plan for your city to have in its process to improve Lake Mitchell,” Kirkwood said.

Public forum sparks land discussions

Following the Parks and Recreation meeting, a public forum encouraged the public to give suggestions and submit comments concerning certain parks and trails along the lake. They were also asked to weigh in on whether the new wetlands that will be created should be accessible to the public.  

Several lake owners questioned why the city was looking at developing the areas around the lake when the water quality hadn’t been addressed.

“The lake is not going to clean up overnight. Once we start getting our wetland built next to the lake it still takes time to filter that water and get it cleaned up,” Mayor Everson said.

Anne Dailey voiced the importance of starting the planning process for the trails and parks before the water quality is improved.

“I think we can’t wait for the water to get cleaned up,” she said, “We need to start drawing people back in with things.”

Kirkwood assured attendees the water quality of the lake was the city and the NDSU group’s first priority.

“It must be done. We all agreed on that. We’re not going to ignore it,” he said.

NDSU Assistant Architecture Professor Yang Song agreed. “We want to help make this lake an asset to the community.”

Dale Odegaard also attended the meeting and questioned to city officials why the land around the lake was getting attention when the water quality has seen no improvement.

“Every year I’ve lived on the lake it gets a little more green and a little less used,” he said. “People outside of Mitchell ask, ‘What’s going on with your lake? I hear it’s closed again.’”