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Sedimental Journey Dozens Dance On Spirit Lake Floor, Hit Bottom In Effort To Stem Leak

Sun., July 16, 1995

Perhaps it was too unbelievable.

A flier urged people to come to the Mill Pond on Saturday, put on their swimming suits and tennis shoes, hike out into this giant mud puddle and stamp their feet to seal the leaky lake bottom.

“Wade to Save Our Lake!” organizers hoped for 200 volunteers. About 40 turned out to put their feet down on the leaking problem that each summer turns the north end of Spirit Lake into a dry, cracked clay flat.

“Nature is not capable of stopping this for a number of reasons,” the flier said of the leaks.

Stamping the silt to seal the cracks and push mud down the holes that are sucking the life out of this bit of backwater “could be a worldwide first attempt at such a project.”

As if to prove the efforts wouldn’t be for naught, “scientists will measure the water flow and levels before and after wading,” the flier said.

Even if Saturday’s march on the water wasn’t enough to seal the sieve, perhaps it will show state government that people are serious about wanting help, or the chance to bring in machinery to fix the problem, organizers said.

Doug Freeland, whose grandparents worked at the Panhandle Lumber Co. operation that gave the Mill Pond its name, was drill instructor. Sporting a fresh bee sting, he moved his left foot in, his left foot out. Then he shook it all about, showing the proper stamping procedure.

“Step deliberately,” he said. Repeat same with the right foot.

The Arthur Murray of water dance instruction.

Volunteers lined up shoulder to shoulder, grabbed a common rope and mucked forth. “Just remember, people pay big bucks for mud therapy,” Sheri Freeland said, pulling her legs through the molasses-like mixture on the pond bottom.

Steve Walker said he came because “I’ve got 110 feet (of property) that I pay lakefront taxes on.” If the Mill Pond can be sealed, he’ll have property to match the tax classification, he said.

Cebe Moore waded out because she remembers when there was enough water in the Mill Pond for her family to water ski.

Looking down and laughing at what used to be her turquoise shoes, she mused, “My 60th birthday and all covered with mud.”

No one is sure why the Mill Pond’s level is dropping an inch and a half a day. Some believe it has always happened, but that recent droughts have given the leaks the upper hand.

Others blame wooden pilings installed by the lumber company for a walkway among the logs that were floated up Spirit Lake to the mill. Those pilings pierced the lake’s clay bottom and went on down to the aquifer. Now, the theory goes, the pilings are rotting, allowing lake water to seep into the aquifer.

At one time, silt and sand settled into the holes and the lake sealed itself, Freeland said.

But a roadway reconstruction project choked the flow of silt from the rest of Spirit Lake, he said. No self-sealing, no self-healing.

Efforts to locate and seal each hole with sandbags, gravel and clay have not succeeded. This time last year, the one-third-mile section of the lake was completely dry.

In two weeks, it will be dry again, Freeman predicted. “This is worse than the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike,” he said.

Will Saturday’s effort turn the tide?

“I don’t know,” said volunteer stamper Dudley Lewis, who grew up here. “It’s something new.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 Color)


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