Pigeon Lake passage project allows fish to move in and out

A remote lake deep in the Chippewa National Forest is benefitting from an innovative construction project that was completed last fall.

Three agencies – the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Chippewa National Forest, and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe – removed a concrete dam-and-culvert from the outlet of Itasca County's Pigeon River impoundment and replaced it with a channel that allows fish to move in and out of the lake.

"Basically, we removed a barrier and created an opportunity," said Patrick Rivers, Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership coordinator. "Fish and other organisms now can move up and down this water system. Ultimately, this project will benefit the long-term health of the impoundment. It may improve area fish populations, too."

The new channel is about 15 feet wide. It was designed and constructed in a way that retains the lake's traditional water level while also allowing fish to move upstream via eight rock terraces called weirs. The weirs, similar to the steps of a staircase, end at what had been the impoundment's dam.

"Prior to this project, fish heading upstream would be stopped by the dam or impeded by fast-flowing water coming out of the culvert," said Rivers. "We've slowed the flow, widened the stream and seeded natural vegetation along it. Before long it will look perfectly natural."

Recently, Rivers and Greg Whaley, a U.S. National Forest Service technician, sampled fish populations within the newly created channel in Pigeon Creek. They found a variety of species, including northern pike up to 33 inches in length. The abundance of walleye, perch, northern pike and forage fish in the lake suggests that fish are using the new passage.

Pigeon Lake is located north of Lake Winnibigoshish in Itasca County, Minn. The project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

This cooperative project embodies the spirit and working principles of the Midwest Glacial Lakes Partnership and the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. Agencies, nonprofit organizations, and local partners are working together to benefit fish and their aquatic habitats.

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