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On Upper Mission Lake north of Brainerd, two neighbors offer competing visions for the future of Minnesota Lake country. Paula West's yard (left) is mostly natural. A narrow opening in the vegetation allows West to access her small dock. Max Rathman's property (right) includes a mowed lawn with putting green, a picnic area and manmade beach.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Paula West, former executive of the Minnesota Lakes Association, said obeying development rules that reduce pollution is the most affordable way. "It costs about 20 times more to restore a water body than to prevent harm," West said. West is standing on her dock on Upper Mission Lake.

Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

Neighbors diverge on way to use lakefront

  • Article by: Jim Spencer
  • June 23, 2010 - 7:19 AM

On Upper Mission Lake in Crow Wing County, two neighbors offer competing visions for the future of Minnesota's lake country.

Paula West's yard facing the lake is natural. Most of the grass has never been mowed nor the bushes trimmed. A narrow opening in the vegetation allows West access to her small dock.

Max Rathman's property next door couldn't be more different. The property includes a large home and a lakeside yard that features a putting green, a picnic area and a lawn leading to a man-made beach.

To the untrained eye, Rathman's property looks better. But area conservationists say that by leaving so much of the environment intact, West is improving water quality. Her plants filter out harmful nutrients. Fish and fowl find food.

By contrast, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources punished Rathman in 2002 for cutting down environmentally critical bulrush to create access for his boat and water scooters. Crow Wing officials also say Rathman's man-made beach is too large and lets more unfiltered storm water flow into the lake.

"If a person has a suburban mentality, they might say [the Rathmans] are taking better care of their land than I am,'' West said. "But if they understand the ecology, they know what's good for the lake. You end up getting all kinds of butterflies and birds, and you understand there can be a balance."

Rathman considers himself a friend of the lake who strikes that balance. "We just love to enjoy the water. ... We're not the ogres out there ripping up the lake,'' he said.

Tom Provost, the DNR's district enforcement officer, said many property owners don't understand the damage done by landscaping.

"What we consider necessary habitat, others might consider a nuisance,'' Provost said.

JIM SPENCER

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