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Located in the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota's Central Region, Bay Lake has been the summer home of generations of Mid-westerners since early in the last century. Noted for fishing and boating, Bay Lake entertains residents and visitors alike as it clothes itself in the shifting patterns of the seasons. Mille Lacs Lake, a mere ten minutes away, is more widely known, but Bay Lake has developed a culture of neighborliness and inter-generational involvement that makes the lake a true 'hometown'. The small village of Bay Lake is simply the hub of the larger lake community, with a dozen neighborhoods sprawled along the shore. Some residents spend the entire year here while others come only for the summer months or for vacations.
Irregularly-shaped Bay Lake covers 2,393 acres in Crow Wing County. The Ojibway called the lake Ses-sa-beg-a-mah, which has been translated as "lake of many bays" or "lake of many arms." The bays and the three islands provide over 20 miles of shoreline, much of it heavily developed with private homes. The wooded shoreline still provides excellent habitat for the common loon - a sure sign the lake is not over-crowded. Proof that the developed areas blend into the natural landscape is the fact that white-tailed deer are often a problem in local gardens. As is common with well-loved residential lakes, an active Bay Lake Improvement Association monitors the water for clarity and purity, works to eradicate invasive species and sponsors activities and special events to bring lakeshore neighbors together to meet common goals. Some of the annual activities sponsored by the Bay Lake Improvement Association are an annual 5K 'Runtilla' (which allows any method of non-motorized wheels along with serious runners), fishing derbies, swim relays, community picnics, activities and fundraisers.
An added attraction on Bay Lake is Sisabagama Island - more commonly known as Church Island. The Lutheran Church has owned the island for over 100 years, using it for church retreats and youth camp. In an effort to engage the local community, the Lutheran Church operates a boat shuttle to provide transportation to the island for public church services every Sunday during the summer months. Regular summer activities are held on the island with which the wider Bay Lake community is involved, including children's activities at Bay Lake Camp. Bay Lake Camp also hosts such events as the Youth Performance Company's performing arts camp, 4-H Camp, and other activities geared toward providing a camping experience to urban youth.
The natural lake is relatively shallow, with an average depth of 22 feet. Two un-named inlet streams bring water into the lake from nearby Crooked and Coffee Lakes. The only outlet is the beginning of the Ripple River leading through Tame Fish Lake to Farm Island Lake. The Ripple River eventually passes through several more lakes before it adds its waters to the Mississippi River. A small dam placed at the outlet in the 1900s to improve a temporary low water level has since been removed. The shallow lake is ideal for swimming and paddle sports, motoring slowly along the shore on a pontoon or casting into the shallows for pan fish. Large expanses of open water are ideally suited to sailing, power boating and enjoying personal watercraft. It's the kind of lake where most lakefront properties have their own swim dock and boat landing facility, truly a residential North Country lake.
Walleye, largemouth bass and northern pike lead the list of desirable sport fishing targets, while yellow perch, rock bass, pumpkinseed, hybrid sunfish, bluegill and black crappie keep the still-fishing crowd (and kids) happy. Efforts are underway to reduce the high numbers of small northern pike in the lake so that more will grow to trophy size. The local lake association is hard at work eradicating invasive Eurasian milfoil so more suitable natural plants can provide even better fish spawning habitat. Fishing isn't limited to the summer months, of course; ice fishing begins as soon as the ice is thick enough to support anglers and their pop-up shanties.
Several resorts around the lake have been in business for nearly 100 years. Generations of lakelubbers who don't own property here come back to the same resort cabin every summer. Brainerd is only 15 miles away, making it a convenient commute. The area is well-supplied with conveniences, including country-store-type shops that have been in business in the area for many years and supply everything a cottager would want. Nearby, the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail System provides plentiful opportunities for hiking and cycling, with snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in winter. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area holds the remnants of the historic Cuyuna Iron Range mines that populated the area and caused lakes such as Bay Lake to become resort destinations. Closer to Bay Lake, the Cuyogqa Lakes Trail Association has provided biking trails leading to scenic look-outs around the lake. Two state parks on Mille Lacs Lake provide recreation on the big popular walleye lake, while Crow Wing State Park at the confluence of the Mississippi and Crow Wing Rivers offers historical interpretive exhibits of old Crow Wing - one of northern Minnesota's largest towns in 1850. Add the casino near Mille Lacs Lake, golf courses, shopping, movies, museums and restaurants all within a short distance,and you find that there is never a shortage of places to go and sights to see in the Bay Lake area.
Bay Lake's modern history began with the discovery of iron ore in the nearby Cuyuga area. Railroads necessary for transporting the ore opened up the then-wilderness area to travelers from far afield who arrived by ship in Duluth. The visitors soon discovered Bay Lake and other area lakes to be ideal places to spend the hot summer months. Resorts were soon built and cottage communities grew along the shore. Many families can trace their ownership of lakefront property here back at least as far as the Depression. There is sometimes real estate for sale - usually existing homes. Very little lakefront property is still available for development. Some private homes are available for summer rental, and the resorts are often open year-round to serve the hunting and winter sports crowd. Many real estate buyers begin their adventures at Bay Lake with a stay at a local vacation rental and decide to make their residency permanent. So, bring the fishing gear, the kids and the sun screen to Bay Lake for a week's visit. You may soon decide to check those real estate ads and make Bay Lake home!
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