Upon returning to campus this fall, I know I was not alone in stopping short at the sight of the greatly dehydrated Lyman Lakes. Our groundskeepers’ helpful notices about the temporary nature of this measure, for a shoreline restoration project, pacified me, and now I only wish that I had been here to see all the bicycles and beer cans initially exposed by the fallen water level. Those with more than my three years’ familiarity with campus, however, probably find the Lakes’ present state much less extraordinary, for human intervention in the flow of Spring Creek, including the lakes, has a history at least as long as Carleton’s.
Lyman Lakes, of course, present the most obvious modification. In the fall of the year of Carleton’s 50th anniversary, 1916, President Donald Cowling kept a Duluth dredging firm busy round the clock digging the lakes, as part of a larger campus beautification project. Professor Harvey Stork, the other leader in the creation of our Arb, praised Cowling’s decision to thus replace a “weedy pasture slough.” Through the Great Depression, the lakes achieved prime recreational importance for Carleton and the greater community, serving as a hockey rink and, for a time the only approved public swimming location in town, after recognition of the Cannon’s pollution in 1934. Canoes and gondolas plied the lakes, and two students would drown there in a canoeing accident and attempted rescue in 1926. Through the 1950s, Mai Fête Pageants, featuring dance performances by Carleton women elaborately attired as snowflakes, Vikings, butterflies, gnomes, and more, attracted crowds of hundreds to thousands to the lakeshores. At the same time, Carleton bought up more land along Spring Creek, including the former town dump at its mouth. The rest of the creek did not escape human hands and tools; you can still see rows of stones that once lined Spring Creek in the middle of its present channel in the Upper Arb.
Cultural and environmental changes had greatly altered the Spring Creek scene by the 1970s. Soil and nutrient run-off from farming upstream threatened to return Lyman Lakes to a smellier parody of the wetland they once were. Attempts to control this process, including continued dredging, vegetative erosion control, and wetland restorations continue to this day. These efforts battle nature’s efforts, hurried by human-caused increases in sedimentation, to return Spring Creek to a dynamic state. How to best manage this system in the long term remains to be determined.
For more information on the history of Spring Creek, watershed management plans, and photographs of Carleton students staging classical Greek warfare on Mai Fête, please consult the Carleton Digital Archives. As always, now is a great time to enjoy the Arb!
Chelsea Clifford for the Cole Student Naturalists