By Jim Umhoefer Trails Reporter
Lac qui Parle County, 10 miles northwest of Montevideo Access from Chippewa County 13 or Lac qui Parle County 33. Highway map index: D-16.
French explorers living with the Indians along the upper Minnesota River gave Lac qui Parle Lake its musical name based on Dakota Indian legend. Lac qui Parle, or the "lake that talks," really does seem to talk when you listen to the collected voices of thousands of geese during spring and fall migrations.
The 530-acre state park at the foot of the lake lies next to the 27,000-acre Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, which stretches to the northwest. When the Big Stone National Wildlife Refuge (an upriver extension of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area) was created, it transformed the upper Minnesota River Valley into a vast game preserve that harbors deer, geese, prairie chickens, pheasants and other game.
Watching the seasonal waterfowl migrations is a favorite visitor activity at Lac qui Parle. Spring migrations last from early March to the end of April, while fall flights begin in September and continue until December. During some years, more than 200,000 geese have noisily assembled here for their flight south, making this one of the biggest goose management areas in the country. The Canada geese are banded at Lac qui Parle to determine where they spend each season.
The native prairie, upland grasslands and farm fields form one of the best pheasant areas in the state. In some years, over 600 deer are harvested, confirming Lac qui Parle's reputation as a prime hunting ground in Minnesota.
The wetlands of this region are rich in food for waterfowl. Grasses, sedges and trees like willow and cottonwood provide food and shelter for water-loving birds. Ducks, pelican, cormorants and herons thrive in the low, marshy areas of the upper Minnesota River. Special restrictions apply to human use of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area in order to preserve it as a refuge. The lake is closed to boating in the fall and 7,000 acres are closed to all hunting. Contact the wildlife area manager or the park manager for detailed dates and regulations.
Fish thrive in Lac qui Parle. At times, the action is good for walleye, northern, perch or panfish. The lake level fluctuates during the open season because of the U.S. Corps of Engineers' flood control efforts at Lac qui Parle Dam. At lower water levels, submerged reefs, floating logs and other debris make boating hazardous. Check boating conditions before going on the lake or river. You can launch directly into the lake from one of the two recreation area landings or from a landing (also in the recreation area) on the Lac qui Parle River.
Because of the water recreation and network of hiking/horseback riding trails at Lac qui Parle, the park is a popular day-use destination. Families like to come here because there's enough to do to satisfy everybody. You can spread out a noontime feast at a lakeshore picnic table, go for a swim at the beach, or do some canoeing or fishing on the lake. Easy hiking and horseback riding trails link the lakeshore to the dense woods that line the convoluted Lac qui Parle River.
Scout troops use the park as a day camp. Other groups can reserve the primitive camping area near an oxbow (U-shaped) lake. The main campground is split into two loops that have a total of 56 semi-modern sites (22 electric). These can fill on weekends, although you'll usually have no difficulty in getting a site at other times. Hunters like to set up camp in the park during autumn. The park's walk-in campsites are available on a first come-first served basis.
Two nearby historic sites across the river are worth a visit. Fort Renville was a fur-trading post built by Joseph Renville in the 1820s. Born in 1779 in Kaposia, an Indian village below present-day St. Paul, Renville grew up with Dakota Indian children and became one of the Northwest's most influential people. He served as a captain in the British army during the War of 1812 and later became a "coureur de bois" (independent fur trader) along the Dakota Indians along the upper Minnesota River.
In 1835, Renville invited Protestant missionary and physician Thomas S. Williamson to found a school and church near the trading post. For the next 20 years, missionaries worked at this remote settlement, attempting to convert the Dakota and to teach them the white man's ways. The missionaries translated the Gospel and several hymns into the Dakota language and completed the first grammar and dictionary of the language.
The Lac qui Parle Mission was the first church in the state. Today, visitors can see a replica of the original abode chapel at the mission site (owned by the Minnesota Historical Society but operated by the Chippeway County Historical Society). To reach the Lac qui Parle Mission and Fort Renville, cross the Minnesota River from the state park and turn left (north) onto Chippeway County 32.
The park grooms 5miles of cross-country ski trails (there are no snowmobiling trails). The flat terrain gives novice skiers a chance for an easy outing while observing winter wildlife such as bald eagles and deer. Winter camping, though not common, is possible in the park (water is available in the campground). Besides the late fall waterfowl migrations, ice fishing attracts the most cold-weather visitors to Lac qui Parle.