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Buffalo Lake ever-improving

By Staff | Nov 22, 2013

Submitted photo Wanda Bullinger and Donny Vetsch prepare steaks as Marilynn Wolfe looks on at the “Steak at the Lake” fundraiser in September.

The recreation area at Buffalo Lake, in far southeastern Pierce County, is undergoing a refurbishing, thanks to a new generation of local watersports enthusiasts.

Although work has mostly come to a halt for the winter, members of the Buffalo Lake Sportsman’s Club put in long hours over the summer upgrading the facilities. Improvements include removing dead trees, painting buildings and shelters, building new picnic tables and placing new fire pits.

Plans are in the works to add more sand to the beach, tin the roofs of all structures and improve the bathrooms. Club members also have a memorial tree project in mind.

“People could give a tree in memory of someone and we’d put up a plaque naming the individuals,” said Julie Grove, club secretary/treasurer.

The Buffalo Lake recreation area goes back to at least the 1950s when the then-named Buffalo Lake Wildlife Club purchased about 40 acres on the northeast corner of the lake, according to Pat Wolfe, a longtime member of the club.

A group of people enjoy Labor Day on a pontoon at Buffalo Lake, west of Esmond. Edie Wurgler/PCT

Pierce County put in terraces for parking, a campground and picnic areas. The club added docks, a sand beach, outdoor toilets, picnic shelters and electricity. Members also cultivated the ground, seeded grass and planted trees. Pierce and Benson counties share the maintenance costs of the road leading to the lake because it sits right on the county line.

Even before the 1950s the lake was a recreation hotspot in periods of high water. The fluctuating lake level was a problem, though, making boating and fishing undependable, according to Wolfe. “In the ’30s it was dry and (Works Progress Administration) workers built a nesting island in the middle,” he said.

The ’40s brought wet years and the lake, which is actually a wide depression on the North Fork of the Sheyenne River, rose again.

By the 1960s, with water levels receding, the Wildlife Club built a three-foot-high spillway on the south end of the lake, Wolf said.

Harold Alexander, who owns land on the lake, said the spillway was somewhat controversial since downstream landowners thought they would be deprived of water for their pastures and hay meadows. Owners upstream were concerned about flooding. A compromise of three feet was the result.

Edie Wurgler/PCT Buffalo Lake, west of Esmond, is a place of recreation and beauty in southeastern Pierce County.

With the lake stabilized, recreation returned in the 1970s and early ’80s. But, with little rainfall in the late 1980s, the lake dried up again. In 1988 a utility company ran a cable under the lake and stayed entirely on dry land, according to Wolfe.

With increased rainfall since then, the water has risen every year. The lake is now estimated to be about 12 feet at its deepest part. Boating, water skiing and swimming have returned. It has never been much of a fish producer, with just an occasional northern being taken, mainly in the spring or early summer according to Wanda Bullinger, president of the sportsman’s club. A deeper lake would prevent the winterkill which happens every year. “We wish the spillway could be raised even a few inches,” Bullinger said.

Last year, water ran over the spillway all winter, Alexander said.

The recreation area is maintained by club members, with member Don Vetsch doing maintenance, lawn mowing and garbage removal. Pierce County reimburses the club for half its expenses, up to $1,800 per year, Bullinger said. Donations and money raised by the club cover the rest.

A major event was held in September and raised $2,200 for improvements. The club hosted a “Steak at the Lake” fundraiser with a meal and dance. T-shirts were also sold and donations solicited.

“We had a lot of great comments from area residents about how nice it was to have activities happening out at the lake again,” Grove said.

Future plans include a July 13, 2014, performance by the well-known water ski club, the Skinautiques, from Lake Metigoshe. Other fundraisers are also in the works. Club members know a considerable amount of time and money are needed to make and maintain the upgrades they have planned.

“It is really worth it when you see all the people enjoying this beautiful area,” Grove said. “We know how much it means to the area residents. There have been a lot of great memories made down at the lake and we just want to keep it a wonderful place for many more to enjoy in the future.”

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