New SFA Feature: ‘Beyond Your Backyard’ With Megan Benage

Editor’s Note: Megan Benage of New Ulm is the Regional Ecologist for the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources, where she works to conserve and restore prairies, grasslands, and savannas with a focus on diversity, pollinators, and working collaboratively with agriculture producers to integrate conservation across the landscape. This will be a recurring feature.

Megan Benage

Beyond Your Backyard: Swan Lake

We got on the water at Swan Lake, the sun was just setting and the reflection of the sky was in front of me with every stroke. A pink, orange, white and blue canvas painted on the water with a symphony of calling yellow-headed blackbirds, Canada geese, marsh wrens, and too many ducks to count in the background. All this and I had a front-row seat and a free ticket to explore a 10,000-acre wetland nestled between Courtland and Nicollet in southern Minnesota.

Swan Lake is one of the largest prairie potholes in the U.S. While pothole may not sound all that glamorous, it is really referring to the shallow nature of the lake, which actually isn’t a lake at all; it’s one of the many wetland “potholes” left after the glaciers receded. Glamorous or not, we are lucky to have them: wetlands are a critical link in the infrastructure of our landscape.

Swan Lake. Photo by Megan Benage.

Prairies and wetlands woven together in southern Minnesota support each other just as they support us. The wetland thread in the weave provides flood control by slowing and holding water; a clean water supply by filtering and recharging groundwater (which is the water most of us drink); improved water quality by trapping sediment and nutrients; erosion control by slowing or stopping that same sediment from running into our lakes, rivers, and streams; sustained flow in the river even during dry periods; wildlife habitat; and offers us countless opportunities for adventure. This is one kind of pothole I didn’t mind getting stuck in and I’m betting you wouldn’t either.

To be able to even stand up, paddle a few strokes, and enjoy a place just 15 minutes from my house is the great gift of the State of Minnesota — public lands where anyone can find the peace in nature that’s so desperately needed now. I slowly paddled around until the sun sank below the clouds and the pending darkness called me back to shore. I wasn’t fast, but I was steady and I made it. What a great way to end the day. And all that after we got to see the bison right next to our car at Minneopa State Park! More on bison next time. Two different adventures, one day—just a small sample of what Minnesota has to offer.

Mind blown? Ready for more? Learn more about wetlands here.

To learn more about Swan Lake visit:

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