Our Lac Qui Parle Man
by Tom Watson
The Dakota people who lived along its banks called the widening in the Minnesota River in far western Minnesota, “The Lake That Speaks”.
Some say it was the honking of the hundreds of thousands of Canada geese that overwinter there; others say it was the crackling of the ice that spoke.
Today, a visitor to Lac que Parle State Park can hear so much more just listening to Billy Thompson.
Billy, the grandson of a Norwegian harness maker, was born in Milan, just east of the park some 83 years ago and spent most of his life watching, listening, exploring and filming every aspect of the region.
As part of the state park’s summer program, Billy’s offers his personal accounts of the park’s history from the last ice age up through the recent process of snapping turtle laying their eggs.
Lac Qui Parle State Park lies along the valley of the ancient River Warren that flowed from the waters of Lake Agassiz over ten thousand years ago. He talks about early French explorations along the length of the river they called the St. Peter (later changed to the Minnesota). He talks about the region’s link to the Vikings.
Billy describes an axe found in the park in 1892 carbon dated to the 12th century.
Thoughts of a route from the Gulf of Mexico to Hudson Bay was the driving force behind an effort to pilot the riverboat “The Freighter” up the Minnesota as far as Odessa, just south of the river’s source. Billy says the local Indians burned it after it ran aground and settlers scavenged it for firewood.
Billy’s historic time line brings the audience up to the present and quickly begins sharing his personal observations from decades of observing the park. He’s a walking natural resources library. He talks about the thousands of snow geese who migrate through the park offering only the briefest of glimpse of their short, often overnight stay.
“Snow geese eat plants by pulling them up by the roots, they destroy their feeding area. Canada geese just snip off the plant at ground level so it grows back,” says Billy.
His videos are documentary quality with classic Thompson commentary. As we watch a snapping turtle laid its eggs, Billy adds, “The most beautiful animal you’ve ever seen – and the ugliest.”
Billy’s love for the park takes on almost a childlike quality. He beams as he holds up a stalk of milkweed nestled inside a huge glass jar.
“This is my butterfly project,” he says as he explains the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.
A few weeks later he was excited to report five butterflies emerged from the glass jar.
“I so thoroughly enjoy watching nature,” says Billy as he thanks those assembled at the park. “Talk about true nature – you’ve got it right here!”
Lac Qui Parle State Park could not ask for a more passionate ambassador than Billy Thompson.
- 30 -