There’s nothing like getting a bird’s eve view of a situation, by airplane.
That was the comment by Steve Foster, a 20 year pilot who conducted an aerial tour of the low water of the Pelican River.
The two-seat, 1967 Piper aircraft followed the Pelican River from the city all the way to rural Fergus Falls on Sept. 6. Foster invited me aboard for the aerial tour.
Nearly dried out sections of riverbed were visible, thanks to the drought and the city drawdown at the Pelican damsite. Foster also descended for a closer look at the Elizabeth dam, which is targeted for removal as part of the 100 mile Pelican River restoration. Also viewed from the air were the network of rural Fergus Falls dams, constructed for hydro-energy by Otter Tail Power Company—which does not, as yet, intend to surrender its power-generating dams.
The aerial tour also offered visual evidence of the drought impacts on cropland.
Soybean fields are turning premature gold, from the air. Some of the tilled ground looks patchy, with crops poorly developed. Some fields appear to have been mowed over, because of lack of moisture and poor development.
Looking at the lakes, from above, relatively few watercraft remained on Labor Day Monday. Many had already been removed, because of difficulty launching in the low water.
Some docks on Lida stretched what seemed like a half-mile out—just to reach navigable water. From the air, the variation in color and shading were telltale signs of how much some of the lakes have dropped.
Also interesting, if you’ve never been overhead, are the incredible bends and curves of the Pelican River. It winds like a snake through pasture, cornfield and wetland.
Many of the ponds and swamps are a bright green, as the heat and evaporation fueled heavy growth of surface algae and sub-surface vegetation.
One of Foster’s concerns with the Pelican dam removal and river restoration, which has been voiced with the DNR, is the prospect of cattails proliferating and chocking out some of the backwater and shallow riverbed after the river is returned to its natural flow.
A Pelican Rapids City Councilman and consistent booster of the municipal airstrip, Foster built his own hanger and parks his Piper in the big shed. He is also in the process of building another plane.