By Jim Umhoefer
Murray County. 14 miles northeast of Slayton and about 33 miles southeast of Marshall. Park access is off of County 38, north of Currie. Highway map index: D-19.
Loon Island is a bird sanctuary connected to this park by a causeway. Ducks, owls, woodpeckers and many other birds live here. Some nest in the dead elm trees that were stricken with Dutch elm disease and now resemble a stark winter woods in the midst of summer. You'll probably hear lots of bird and animal sounds on the island; the rat-tat-tat of a redheaded woodpecker, the scolding of a squirrel or the slap of a beaver's tail hitting the water by the shoreline.
Lake Shetek (translated as "pelican" in the Dakota Indian language) is southwestern Minnesota's largest lake and is the headwaters of the Des Moines River. The 3,600-acre lake is famous among visitors from Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota who come to catch walleyes, northerns, bullheads and crappies off Loon Island and along the causeway. Kosak's Bay, up the shoreline from the park, is a good spot, too. The park has a drive-in boat access near the causeway.
Make the contact station your first stop in the park. You can rent boats and canoes here and purchase snacks and limited supplies. There is also a small gift shop. The semi-modern campground is spacious, and it's popular on holidays and summer weekends. About 85 percent of the sites have electrical hookups. There are 10 walk-in sites along the lakeshore, a short distance from the campground, and a separate, smaller rustic campground. The park also has three group camps. Two are primitive while the other has bunk cabins and a mess hall (available by reservation only). A new campground and more trails are part of the tentative development plan for the park.
Just north of the campground is a swimming beach and a pleasant lakeshore picnic area. In the interpretive center, visitors can see animal displays, an arrowhead collection and many "touch and see" artifacts. Check the daily naturalist schedule during the summer for special events.
The park has two historical sites. One is the pioneer Koch cabin (across the road from the campground); the other is the Shetek Monument (just off the entrance road), relating to the U.S. Dakota Conflict of 1862.
Trails are groomed and marked for snowmobilers (5 miles) and cross-country skiers (3 miles). A few visitors enjoy snowshoeing, but it is not common in the park. Ice fishing has grown in popularity each year since the state installed an aeration system in Lake Shetek in the mid-1970s. This has raised the winter oxygen levels and eliminated winterkill.