Though quiet in this photo, taken Aug. 21 after cooler temperatures arrived in the lakes area, the Prairie Lake boat landing has been heavily used by swimmers during the hot summer of 2021—even though it is not managed as a swimming beach by the DNR.

Increased swimming at Prairie Lake boat access discussed at annual meeting

Ninety degree-plus temperatures sent many families to the water, looking for a spot for a cool dip in the summer of 2021. 

They found a swimming hole—at the Prairie Lake public boat landing. 

Concerns surfaced at the Aug. 21 Prairie Lake Association meeting. While many lakeshore property owners recognize that the waters are public, and swimmers should have some access to Minnesota’s lakes—the Prairie access is managed for boats, not swimmers. There has always been a certain amount of swimming at the Prairie landing, with its convenient location on Highway 59 north of Pelican Rapids, but swimmers were even more common this summer.

It is a concern not only confined to Prairie, but around Otter Tail County and its 1,049 lakes. If you stretched the miles of shoreline in Otter Tail alone, it would measure from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. 

As one Prairie Lake association officer noted, if the site was officially opened up to swimming—there should be active DNR management, such as portable toilets and other features and amenities geared for swimming. Safety has also been a concern, with swimmers mingling closely to a busy boat landing site.

One association member suggested that the Prairie Association donate to the Pelican Rapids city swimming pool-aquatic center project. A new city pool would provide more swimming opportunities, as well as swim lessons, and perhaps take the pressure off the Prairie access. 

The issue also came up last year, as the city was investigating the prospect of extending a pedestrian path from city limits to Prairie—as part of the Highway 59 and 108 improvement project in 2024. 

 Based on an informal poll of Prairie Lake property owners, there was support for a trail for safe bicycling to Pelican city—but also a list of concerns: 

• Additional activity that would have an effect on launching boats and maneuvering trailers. 

• The pedestrian path attracting more swimmers, though it is clearly labeled “No Swimming” by the DNR.

• Responsibility for maintaining path, including mowing and litter disposal. Prairie access is outside of Pelican city limits, in Pelican Township, so it is not technically within Pelican jurisdiction. 

• Would the site be monitored by the Pelican Police Department. 

• Swimming could create large gatherings of unsupervised youth. 

Though final designs and specifications for trails related to the Highways 59 and 108 projects are still pending, it is still uncertain whether MnDOT would fund a trail extending north to Prairie Lake.