Lake Bemidji South Shore Restoration and Enhancement

Project Details by Fiscal Year
2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Fund Source
Outdoor Heritage Fund
City of Bemidji
Recipient Type
Local/Regional Government
Start Date
July 2015
End Date
June 2020
Activity Type
Counties Affected
Project Overview

After a century of industrial use, the project brought Lake Bemidji's South Shore to its original state. The city removed 1,144 tons of contaminated soil and sediment, 9,400 cubic yards of woody debris from the lake-bottom and planted native vegetation on the shoreline to restore and enhance aquatic habitat.

About the Issue


Project Details

The Lake Bemidji South Shore Restoration and Enhancement project transformed a blighted shoreline and disturbed lake bed of one of northern Minnesota’s finest urban lakes into a model of restoration to its native state, improving water quality and aquatic habitat. The project was the final step of a restoration effort led by the City of Bemidji, in partnership with the Minnesota DNR and DEED.

Lake Bemidji is the first major lake in the Upper Mississippi River watershed. It supports a diverse high quality fishery for walleye, northern pike, yellow perch and muskie. These species are dependent on high quality habitats. 

The south shore of Lake Bemidji has a long history of industrial use which altered the shoreline and impacted water quality. The site housed several industries, primarily forestry companies. With their closing and/or relocation, the site became a blighted brownfield. Adjacent to downtown Bemidji, the project includes approximately 4/10 mile of shoreline.

From 2008-2014, the City of Bemidji partnered with DNR and DEED to clean-up the site and restore the shoreline to its native state. Specifically:

-    The City purchased the site and placed it in the MPCA Voluntary Investigation and Clean-Up (VIC) Program, and using a DEED redevelopment grant, cleaned up roughly 50 acres of land.
-    The DNR purchased land from the City and extended the Paul Bunyan State Trail through the site.
-    The City permanently designated the lakeshore between the trail and the lake as public land.
-    The DNR purchased a large parcel of the eastern shoreline as a DNR Aquatic Management Area.

Much work remained on the lakeshore and in lake bed. Approximately 9,400 cubic yards of woody debris from the old Crookston Lumber remained in the lake bottom and along the south shore. The debris covered 1,500 feet of lakeshore extending 200 feet from the shore and ranging from 1 to 4 feet deep. 

The lakeshore needed to be restored to its original state, including native vegetation, trees, shrubs and natural erosion control. The land between the trail and the lake (3.1 acres) was replanted with native vegetation, improving water quality and habitat in the lake and 0.6 acre was restored for use by the public as a swimming beach, rest stop along the bike trail, and education area, totaling 3.7 acres restored for ecological and public use.

The project returned the south shore of Lake Bemidji to its native state for the first time in a century, improved the shoreline and addressed water quality and aquatic habitat issues in an urban-recreational setting. 

Now that restoration and enhancement is complete, the City developed (with funding outside Outdoor Heritage Council support) a regional park that provides public education on water quality and aquatic habitat restoration. The park utilizes roughly 20 percent of the shoreline. The project balances environmental protection and enhancement and public use and education on one of northern Minnesota’s premier lakes.

The following was completed with Outdoor Heritage Fund support:

Shoreline Restoration: 

The historic industrial use of the site altered the south shoreline of Lake Bemidji. The effect was reduced water quality and compromised aquatic habitat. In May 2014, DNR specialists assessed the south shore site and determined the potential of restoring the site. The DNR recommended substantial clean-up and restoration work to improve water quality, habitat and erosion control.

The restoration plan included:

-    Site monitoring
-    Site preparation/treatment of weeds
-    Installation of native seed mixes
-    Installation of 10,000 native plugs
-    Planting 800 (#2) shrubs
-    Planting 10 (#10) native trees
-    Weed control 
-    Installation of erosion control

The city is committed to maintaining the improvements long term through its parks and recreation department. 

Woody Debris Removal:

The City studied the woody debris issue and completed design plans that lowered the lake level with a temporary cofferdam (protecting the fish) and excavating the debris out of the lake. 

The City received the following permits:

-    DNR Water Permit
-    Army Corps of Engineers Permit
-    MPCA Solid Waste/Beneficial Reuse
-    Section 106 Review
-    Bois Forte Band and Leech Lake Band Clearance Letter

The construction work was publicly bid and specified the use of a water barrier cofferdam, Aquabarrier, Portadam, or equal. The Engineer reviewed these brands and permits were based on the specifications. MPCA VIC Program costs for remediation of contaminated soil/sediment is a fee program so costs were incurred for review.

Approximately 9,400 cubic yards of woody debris was removed and replaced with sand. The excavated area extended 200 feet out from the shore, covering 1,440 feet of shoreline and depth of 1 to 4 feet. Overall, 240,000 square feet of Lake Bemidji was cleaned up and restored. 

The woody debris was sampled and primarily used as clean backfill on site or properly disposed of if contaminated. Approximately 400 tons of contaminated soil and 750 tons of contaminated sediment/wood debris was managed and disposed of at a permitted landfill.

The City spent $63,800 in design and permitting. The estimated cost to restore the lake bed was $1.5 million with vegetation restoration totaling $150,000. The City used Landmark Environmental, LLC and Anderson Engineering of MN for construction management because they designed, assisted in bidding, and acquired permits. The City believed they provided high quality and reasonably priced services. Landmark has staff in Bemidji and engineers and staff traveled from Twin Cities to Bemidji for meetings and construction as needed.

Lake Bemidji is one of northern Minnesota’s most critical natural assets. The City of Bemidji requested and received $1.65 million in Outdoor Heritage funding to complete the shoreline restoration and woody debris removal. The restoration and enhancement improves water quality and habitat to native conditions.  The South Shore Lake Bemidji project was a finalist for a Minnesota Brownfields ReScape Award in 2017 for small city impact. 

Legal Citation / Subdivision
ML 2015, First Sp. Session, Ch. 2, Art. 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 5(d)
Appropriation Language

$1,650,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the city of Bemidji to restore and enhance fish habitat on Lake Bemidji. A list of proposed restorations and enhancements must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.

2016 Fiscal Year Funding Amount
Other Funds Leveraged
Direct expenses
Administration costs
Number of full time equivalents funded
Measurable Outcome(s)

Improved aquatic habitat indicators.

Source of Additional Funds

City of Bemidji

Project Manager
First Name
Last Name
Organization Name
City of Bemidji
Street Address
317 Fourth Street NW
Zip Code
(218) 759-3565
Administered By
Administered by

500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul, MN 55155

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