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Reconnecting Perch Lake to the St. Louis River

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

Perch Lake in western Duluth isn't much more than a mud pit now, shallow, filled with sediment and so low in oxygen that fish can't survive for much of the year.

As far as fish go, you'd be lucky to find a perch in there.

But a $7 million project headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers aims to change that -- to make the 30-acre impoundment a bastion for fish by reconnecting it to the St. Louis River and restoring it for walleye, sturgeon, muskellunge and ducks.

"Right now there isn't enough oxygen for anything to live in there most of the year. Especially in winter," said Melissa Sjolund, who is overseeing the project for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It is so shallow and so filled with organic matter, muck, that it freezes out."

Perch Lake didn't become a lake until construction of first a railroad track and then Minnesota Highway 23 cut it off from the rest of the St. Louis River estuary. Before that it was part of the river's ebbs and flows, a backwater bend connected by channels and revived with floods and high water -- part of the river's ecosystem and likely great habitat for fish, waterfowl and wildlife.

Now, except for a single 48-inch culvert, Perch Lake doesn't have much relationship with the river.

 

Recently, contractors hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began baseline sediment samples and geotechnical samples in and around Perch Lake. They want to find the most stable places under the roadway for new openings between the lake and river.

Construction of the new waterway connections is expected in 2021 with public input sessions planned before any work starts.

"It looks like the best options will be retaining the current culvert as the upstream connection and then adding one or more openings, probably culverts, downstream," Sjolund said. "We're working with MNDOT to find the least intrusive way to do this that doesn't impact the road but also accomplishes our goals for restoring Perch Lake."

In addition to the new water routes between the lake and river, the project includes dredging upwards of 100,000 cubic yards of muck out of the lake that has accumulated over the last century with no natural flow to move it on. That's about 7,142 average sized dump truck loads.

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