Eagan resident Steve Weston didn’t have to use a hard sell when collecting signatures for his petition.

“I’m here asking you to sign the most unimportant petition,” he would tell his neighbors. “Absolutely not earth shattering.”

His cause: Getting the state to straighten out the names of two local lakes. Everyone in Eagan knows which is Carlson Lake and which is Quigley Lake, but the state of Minnesota’s official records somehow got their names switched.

Weston — who lives on Quigley Lake (or, as the state calls it, Carlson Lake) — soon had gathered 120 signatures.

But, as Weston learned when he first called the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it’s not simple to change a lake’s name — even if the change is really a correction.

“What do you mean I gotta jump through all these hoops just because somebody at the DNR can’t read a map?” Weston recalls asking at the beginning of the process.

Minnesota does not take lake names — or changing them — lightly.

Chapter 83A of the state statutes spells it out: A citizen seeking to change a lake’s name must gather 10 signatures on a petition. It then goes to a public hearing and vote by the county commission before finally making its way to the DNR commissioner’s desk.

Weston took an extra step, asking the Eagan City Council to approve a letter of support, which the council did May 5. He plans to bring his petition to Dakota County soon.

Eric MacBeth, Eagan’s water resources manager, said city employees have known about the lake name mix-up for a long time, but since it arises only occasionally, they didn’t initiate the process.

It was Weston’s volunteer task measuring water quality in local lakes that made him aware of the problem. He found it confusing to have to mentally swap the lake names as they appear on the state’s reporting website.

“I do the data entry and it just bugs the heck out of me,” he said. “I just one day said, ‘Enough of this. This is ridiculous. What can I do to change this? … Let’s fix it.’ ”

What’s in a name?

The state’s list of completed lake-name changes includes many former Squaw Lakes, a name now banned by state law because of its offensive connotations for American Indians. Carlson and Quigley lakes would be the first lakes to change names in Dakota County.

Other geographic features that sometimes take official names in Minnesota include islands, rivers and even a point of land on a lake. But that’s nothing compared to states further west, where rocks, hills and peaks also carry names, said Peter Boulay, who handles lake name changes for the DNR.

Minnesota’s current count of lakes that are 10 acres or greater is 11,842. Add wetlands and the number rises to 15,000. Add lakes as small as 2.5 acres and Minnesota has 21,000 — many of them not named.

The next step for Carlson and Quigley lakes is a public hearing. “We get a lot of people asking, ‘Can we do this quietly?’ ” Boulay said. But with lake-name changes, he said, it’s better to have an open process than to try to ask for forgiveness from upset neighbors later.

Boulay said a public hearing can also turn up problems with a proposed name. For example, people have tried to name lakes for people who are still living or who died recently — a violation of a federal rule that the person for whom a lake is named must have been dead at least five years.

If approved by Dakota County commissioners and signed by the DNR commissioner, Boulay will make the change in state records and forward it to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Source of mix-up

The Eagan mix-up seems to go back to a 1980 U.S. Geological Survey map, itself based on a 1968 statewide inventory, that used only one name (“Quigley”) for both lakes.

On the 1968 map, “the name kind of floated between the two lakes,” said Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan. His great-grandfather bought the land around Carlson Lake about 100 years ago, and it largely stayed in the family until Carlson’s father developed it for housing in the 1970s.

Quigley Lake grew from a swamp into the 5-foot-deep lake it is today when the residential construction meant cutting off a link that had drained Quigley Lake into much deeper Carlson Lake. (Both lakes are about 11 acres, Weston said, but Carlson is 30-50 feet deep.)

Carlson, who still lives nearby on Carlson Lake Lane, said Carlson Lake was where he learned to swim and water ski in the 1950s.

The lake-name mix-up “doesn’t really bother me,” Carlson said, but “Steve is a person who goes after accuracy.”

In addition to his water-quality work, Weston is a state coordinator for the Christmas Bird Count and the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas Project, as well as serving as Dakota County coordinator for the annual count of sandhill cranes. His interest in the environment is a “lifelong hobby,” he said.

Weston is on Carlson’s speed dial for wildlife questions.

“Whenever we have a bird we need to ID, he’s our first call. Then he’s standing out in our back yard looking for it,” Carlson said.


Chris Steller is a Twin Cities freelance writer.