Pelican Lake lapping against beachfront buildings at area’s largest resort

By Louis Hoglund

High water is swallowing beaches and splashing against the walls of Fair Hills Resort, following one of the wettest springs of recent years.

Nearly 1,000 sandbags were rapidly assembled and placed along the resort’s beachfront complex on the north shore of Pelican Lake. 

Meanwhile, there are numerous reports of high water from property owners all around Pelican Lake. 

“This has happened once every ten to 15 years—but we’ve never had this much water,” said Beth Schupp, Fair Hills, who grew up at the family-owned resort. 

“What is so surprising is that it was so dry last summer (2021),” said Schupp. “We had a sandy beach that reminded me of when I was growing up at the resort, back in the 1960s.”

Wind direction is a crucial factor. If Mother Nature blows from the south-southeast—the waves lap up to Fair Hill buildings. Winds from the north send waves in the other direction on the lake. 

Sandbag and plywood “dams” were erected all last week. Fair Hills, one of the oldest and largest resort operations in the region, has made a century of friends, across the generations. And fortunately, some of them showed up to help out. 

Dave Sherbrook and son Jake set up sandbag equipment, which produces a dozen bags every few minutes, rigged to a skid steer for transporting. Volunteers from the Detroit Lakes BTD Manufacturing company also pitched in—wearing waders and work gloves, added Schupp. 

“It was super helpful. It takes time to make sandbags,” she noted. 

This overhead view of the Fair Hills lakeside complex, taken in a previous season, illustrates how close the structure is to the water’s edge. Also, background, is the “Big Pelican” excursion boat—which is still “grounded” until resort crews can firm up a mooring location in the high water conditions on Pelican Lake.
High water has been encroaching on Fair Hills Resort, on the north shore of Pelican Laked. Sandbag and plywood “dams” were placed last week to hold back the water—especially when winds from the south send waves crashing into the resort site.

Fair Hills slapped by Mother Nature on multiple fronts—including ‘flash flood’ on golf course

Over land and sea…Fair Hills Resort faced threats on nearly all fronts—as the busy Memorial Day weekend approached. 

Not only were the waters of Pelican Lake threatening the resort to the south—but the golf course to the north was assaulted by a deluge of rain and soil runoff.

“Flash flooding” and runoff from a neighboring field of recently planted barley sloshed onto about three fairways, at the Wildflower Golf Course, reported Beth Schupp, Fair Hills owner. 

Golf maintenance crews deal with a wide range of grounds conditions, but the rain-driven agricultural runoff was unusual.  Wildflower remained open, and should be back to normal for late spring-early summer golf. 

It is difficult to draw any long-range environmental conclusions from the weird, dry-to-wet conditions over a span of less than a year. But generally, Schupp believes the ordinary high water mark has “changed” since 1965. 

A DNR official she spoke with said that, despite last summer’s drought-like conditions, the climate has generally been wetter over the past 15 years. 

As of May 16, Fair Hills has only a couple of docks out in the lake. 

The high water has also “grounded” the familiar Big Pelican excursion boat, said Schupp. The large vessel needs special mooring and docking, so there has been a good place to put the rig. “It really needs a strong dock…it has a way of moving things,” said Schupp. 

But the outlook is good for Fair Hills, even if Pelican Lake levels aren’t cooperative. The resort is fully booked for Memorial Day weekend. 

“We’re way more than just water—with the golf, tennis, and other amenities. Plus the pools will be ready,” said Schupp, looking forward optimistically. “And—we always have the beautiful view of Pelican Lake!”