Lake Pepin 'just draws people here'
LAKE CITY — When sand from the Chippewa River blocked the Mississippi River many millenia ago, it created Lake Pepin and an economic boost for towns that would be built along the lake.
Without it, the lake would be another stretch of the river, said Mark Lutjen, harbormaster of Lake City Marina. With the lake, he has 637 slips for boats from fishing boats to large sailboats to cruisers, making it the biggest marina on the entire Mississippi.
"Lake Pepin is definitely the draw for a lot of boaters," he said.
His marina gets transient boaters from the Twin Cities, St. Croix River and Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. They like the open water with little current, and sailors especially like the size.
And when people sail or drive their boats into Lake City or other towns on the lake, they bring money.
"It's easy to see directly how it benefits the city," he said.
Marina revenues paid for the $3 million renovation and expansion of city hall, and they pump about $500,000 a year directly into the city.
Boaters also spend money at the city's businesses. In winter and early spring, businesses wait for the return of people who rent space for mobile homes on the point and those who boat in the marina, knowing business will pick up.
"It just draws people here," said Mary Huselid, executive director of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce.
The lake faces a threat from sedimentation, and if it ever disappears, "the community is going to suffer," she said.
Across the lake in Pepin, Wis., the story is much the same. The little town with a large marina is loaded with shops that appeal to visitors. One is Dockside Mercantile.
Owner Dorothy Thompson said the town has three economic drivers — being near the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, restaurants such as Harbor View Cafe and the marina. Two are based on the lake, she said. Pepin also has a fish-processing plant that gets fish from the lake and river.
The town was started by people who wanted to be near the river and lake, and the riverboats that plied them, she said. Today, it's changing, with more retirees who enjoy the beauty of Lake Pepin and its quaint towns, she said.
Page A5: The people of Lake Pepin