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  • Jodi Eberhardt

WAPOA shows how to Reclaim Lost Shoreline

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

It’s a beautiful site on the south shore of Big Trout lake. A small cabin sits on top of a hill that’s shaded by mature trees. The gardens are filled with native ferns. A series of flagstone pavers lead to primitive steps down to the lake. The shoreline is left natural and not mowed. A small clearing offers a great view from a bench. The dock extends into a naturally sandy shore and the kayak is ready to paddle.

Merry Keefe has been at the property since 1944. She has modernized the cabin but left the land in pristine condition. In recent years, the shoreline has been slowing receding due to larger wind and rain events and increased wave action. Even though the shoreline has lots of trees and plants, erosion has claimed upwards of five feet in some areas.

At this point, most homeowners would call a landscaping company to install riprap, a row of rocks that tries to keep the shoreline in place. Riprap on a lake reduces critical habitat for fish and wildlife resources and the food chain they depend on. The installation can be expensive and and the shoreline still can be damaged by ice heaves and undermined by wave action.

Merry contacted WAPOA and worked with Shelley Larson from Hayland Woods, to come up with a different plan.

On June 7, WAPOA organized a Community Build project to build willow wattles and add native plants at the waters edge. Using volunteer time reduced costs, brought neighbors together, and created an instant workshop for property owners to learn about options for protecting their own shore.

Shelley started with a quick talk about the project and shoreline erosion:

  • Willow wattles will be placed in the water along the length of the shore. They will block the wave action and allow for the water to filter back through the willow to slowly trap the organic matter.

  • A willow wattle can be better than a purchased biolog which are often moved by storms, do not allow water to pass through the structure, and takes a long time for plant roots to permeate and anchor to the lake bottom.

  • A permit is not needed to install the willow wattle, but the DNR does require a permit to install plants below water’s edge.

  • The undeveloped shoreline is full of trees plants with deep roots to hold the banks. Dogweed and Spirea (Meadowsweet) were planted along the shore to build a root system.

  • Deep rooted plants and sedges are added every foot along the shore and planted into the existing bank and vegetation. The flowers will bloom during the entire summer.

  • If you already have rip rap on your shore, it does help to leave native plants growing in the rock. Their deep roots, protect the lake from runoff, provide habitat, and help protect a lakeshore against wave action.

  • Reed Canary grass is invasive and tends to take over a shoreline. Unfortunately, the shallow root system creates a mat, blocks deep rooted native plants, and doesn’t prevent any erosion. Learn more about how to identify and remove Reed Canary Grass from the Minnesota DNR.

Then she taught the group of 20 volunteers how to build and plant the willow wattles. Here are the steps:

1. Collect 8 to 10 foot branches from willow. Doesn’t have to be willow – dogwood, sumac or other long, straight, and flexible braches will work.

2. Lay out bundles along the shore.

3. Tie tightly with twine every 2 feet.

4. Move the whole row into the water

5. Place a 3 foot stake through the wattle and drive into the ground with a sledge.

6. Plant into the bank and behind the wattle. Do not put plants in the wattle, they will just wash away.

For places with more erosion, use multiple rows of willow as an additional barrier.

After a year, this shoreline will become a beautiful lakeside garden that naturally reduces erosion with minimal maintenance. Here's a photo of a different site that used the same techniques.

Thank you, Merry Keefe, for showing how to love your lake with a landscape that is beautiful and helps improve water quality. Thank you to the volunteers for donating your time. Thank you to area businesses for the donations of food and drinks: Lake Country Crafts and Cones, Crosslake Subway, Old Milwaukee Club, and Crosslake DQ.

The Pine River Watershed Alliance recognizes the great work WAPOA continues to do to restore shoreline and native habitat. has a shoreline restoration page with a video of Shelly's recent talk on what causes erosion, options to repair it, and suggestions on preventing future damage. WAPOA offers members assistance with shoreline projects and site assessments.

If you’d like to build your own willow wattles, Clearwater Lake Conservancy has a how-to-guide:


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