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Saving a lake

By Staff | May 25, 2014

Jim Putnam can identify just about every tree, wildflower, fish, bird or animal that he sees or hears at Daly Park.

The park, located alongside Lura Lake just north of Delavan, has undergone a complete renovation in the past 20 years. Where once there was very little wildlife, the park is now brimming with the sounds of birds and the colors of blossoming trees and wildflowers. The complete overhaul of Daly Park is due in large part to Putnam, the president of the Lura Lake Association.

Putnam has put in thousands of hours of his personal time in restoring the lake and the park. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Lura Lake Association, an association founded by Putnam and his late friend, Robert Brush.

Putnam’s efforts in the restoration project have earned him the Jefferson Good People Award from KEYC. The award is reserved for citizens in the area who have made a major contribution for the good of the community.

Growing up three miles south of Lura Lake, Putnam remembers the time he spent at the lake as a young child.

“I used to ride my bicycle up here and fish for bullheads when I was six years old,” Putnam says.

At the time, about 65 years ago, Daly Park did not exist. In its place was a cow pasture and dirt roads. The lake was full of carp and bullheads, and the shoreline was threatened by erosion.

It wasn’t until Putnam became involved with shoreline restoration and wildlife management in southern Minnesota more than 20 years ago that there was hope for saving the dying lake.

Putnam and Brush started the reformation project in 1994 after establishing the Lura Lake Association. However, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources told the men that it would take well over a year to get enough money raised to restore the lake.

“We had to come up with half of the $70,000 to kill this lake. They told us it would take us three years to raise that kind of money in three months, we had $35,000 raised,” Putnam said.

By 1995, the restoration project was fully underway. Lura Lake had been restocked with fish from the Waterville Fishery and Putnam and Brush, along with several other volunteers, spent countless hours transforming what was once a cow pasture into a 93-acre park complete with hiking trails, public water access, campsites and many other recreational activities.

As if renovating a lake and the park alongside it wasn’t enough, Putnam also worked full-time at Seneca Foods Corp. in Blue Earth as a field mechanic.

“In the summertime, I worked nights in the field and spent the day out at the lake,” Putnam said.

While the question remains which job Putnam preferred more, his contribution to Lura Lake and Daly Park has left a lasting impression.

Each year, local schools from around the area take a field trip to Lura Lake for an environmental day. Putnam spends 75 to 100 hours each year setting up demonstrations and information booths for the children who attend. Students learn to identify different types of fish, wildlife and wildflowers, and they also have fishing contests held by the DNR. To date, more than 10,000 students have attended the environmental days at Lura Lake.

“Most kids come out here and they’ve never tried fishing before,” said Putnam. “I like teaching them how to fish and to identify different species of birds and wildflowers.”

Though Lura Lake and Daly Park are owned by the county, Putnam and other volunteers have put thousands of hours into maintaining the park. Putnam was nominated to receive the Jefferson Good People Award given by KEYC news station and he was chosen because of the outstanding work he has done in park conservation.

All of the work that Putnam has put into the park has been done voluntarily. Along with the help of volunteers from the area and donations from area businesses and citizens, the park has been brought back to life.

“I just enjoy coming out to the lake,” Putnam said. “I grew up around here and I just love the beauty of the lake and the park.”