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Five Island Lake Assoc.

By Staff | Sep 2, 2020

The Emmetsburg community benefits greatly from Iowa’s ninth largest natural lake at the north edge of town. Five Island Lake contributes to the local economy, provides recreational water activities that other communities envy and year after year it attracts anglers, boaters, snowmobilers, ice skaters, campers and homeowners.

It was formed by glaciers, unappreciated at a time when land was more valued than a body of water and according to Dr. James Coffey, “Some observe the lake as a mysterious, natural phenomenon that was here right here long before Homo sapiens were walking on the earth.” (Saving the Glacier’s Creation, written by James L. Coffey, M.D., 2003)

Between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago the glaciers moved, settled, melted and moved again over a time period of 3,000 years. This resulted in Five Island Lake. It is like many lakes in Minnesota and northern Iowa in that it was shallow and contained sand, silt, and clay. Early settlers named it Jackman’s Lake, Dragoons called it Corley Lake, Natives referred to it as Battle Lake and until 1944 it was known as Medium Lake.

Nature did its work to create the lake, but through the years silt and vegetation made it impossible to navigate the water. In the late 19th century and early 20th century civic groups worked to ensure that Five Island Lake did not disappear.

Dr. Coffey wrote “In 1850, the federal government passed legislation that could transfer proven swamp lands to the state. The state, in turn, could drain the swamps and then sell the reclaimed land. This gave the struggling state governments a new source of revenue.”

In Iowa, a lake could be drained if 20 township people and 50 other landowners signed a petition that favored transferring the land for farming. In 1907, such a petition was presented for a public hearing. Encouraged by an editorial in the Emmetsburg Reporter, members of the town’s Commercial Club devised a plan and took their lake argument to the Executive Council of Iowa. The petition to drain the lake was denied.

A project to improve the lake by dredging emerged and money was raised to hire a machine and operator. The work over the years was recognized as one of the first lakes in Iowa to complete a successful dredging project. Dr. Coffey stated that “The work consisted of deepening the lake, in forming banks and beaches, and in reclaiming low lands to form parks and drives.” Soper Park was one of the silt deposit areas.

Throughout subsequent years, there have been numerous citizens that have come together and initiated projects including dredging in order to keep the lake useable for the public. It is no different in 2020. The Five Island Lake Association (FILA) is a newly formed non-profit group working to support projects that address current lake challenges such as clarity, ecological health and phosphorus reduction. FILA will help to inform the public, raise funds and build awareness for the lake’s health. It will support work done by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the local Natural Resources Conservation Service, Palo Alto County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Coordinator for the Palo Alto County Shallow Lakes Project.

Submitted by Diane Weiland

The FILA column will appear in local newspapers bi-monthly.