Anoka County history: Peltier Lake Island heron rookery

The story of the Peltier Island rookery has all the elements of a great story: a hero, a villain, a triumph and a defeat.

Our story starts in 1998. Nestled along the north side of Peltier Lake, straddling both Centerville and Lino Lakes, lies a heavily wooded 30-acre island.

Surrounded by wilderness, the Great Blue Herons numbered about 1,100 active nests in the spring of 1998.

They shared the island with Great Egrets and with Black-crowned Night Herons, a close relative, but nocturnal.

All three birds are colonial, meaning they require a colony to survive and breed.

There are only nine similar colonies in the seven county metro area, and Peltier Lake Island was the second largest.

That summer a couple of neighbors erected a slalom water-ski course next to the colony.

High speed powerboats ripped through the native aquatic vegetation in the shallow channel and tore a  trench in the lake bed.

On the island, the noise of the powerful boats and the wall of water sprayed high by passing skiers were devastating to the rookery.

Lakeshore residents noticed that the herons’ numbers seemed to be down.

DNR studies confirmed that they were down by 50 percent

Unfortunately, that did not mean that half of each species was gone.

The Black-crowned Night Herons were gone completely, their nests abandoned.

All of them. Tragically, every last one was gone.

Enter our hero.  Wayne Le Blanc, of Centerville, was gravely concerned.

A man of courage and conviction, well-armed with accurate data, photos and graphs, he organized meetings with the DNR, the county sheriff, the Anoka County Parks, the city of Centerville, the city of Lino Lakes and the lake association, where experts explained the consequences of the slalom ski course on the rookery and the aquatic plants.

An informal agreement was made that the water skiing would be limited to the south end of the lake and high speed boats would avoid the area near the nesting site.

The next year the number of Great Blue Herons rebounded slightly.

They had gone from 1,100 in spring of 1998 to roughly 600 in the fall, to about 625 in 1999.

The problem with an informal agreement is that it is not legally binding.

By 2001, the ski course was back.

The Great Blue Herons were abandoning their nests, and their young, and the colony was in collapse.

As the damage to the rookery continued, so did the fight.

Would the Black-crowned Night Herons return?

Would the Great Blue Herons recover? Could anything be done?

Was it already too late?

Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion!

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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