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About 130 years ago, the Chisago Lakes Chain of Lakes was undivided, linked together as one big lake. The Swedish settlers called the 5,400-acre body of water Big Lake. Over time the name changed to Swede Lake then to Chisago Lake. The lake was used to transport goods and freight and also for recreation. Hotels sprung up on the lake's shore, and sailboats and passenger steamers carried visitors on cruises across the water. Chisago Lake, however, became a victim of its success. When the railroad moved into the area in the 1880s, trestle bridges were built over part of the lake. Eventually the railway bridges were filled in with dirt to carry the highway, and the natural channels silted closed. The lake divided into five separate basins: North Center Lake, South Center Lake, North Lindstrom Lake, South Lindstrom Lake, and Chisago Lake.
Today the Chisago Lakes Chain of Lakes also includes Little Green Lake and Green Lake. Together the seven lakes in the chain cover 5,357 acres in Chisago County. Various connections between the lakes and a weir system control the water levels on the chain. The Chisago Lakes Lake Improvement District, established in 1976, is responsible for maintaining the ditches and weirs and regulating lake levels. The first efforts to re-establish connections between the lakes were made in 1939, and in 1945 the channel between North and South Lindstrom Lake was dredged. Today, effort is being made by the Chisago Lakes Restoration Association to re-create navigable connections between all the lakes.
Some navigable connections still exist between the Chisago Lakes. North Center Lake covers 868 acres with a maximum depth of 46 feet and an average depth of 10 feet. It has a navigable connection with 1,003-acre South Center Lake which at 109 feet is the deepest lake in the chain with an average depth of 16 feet. North Lindstrom Lake is one of the smallest lakes in the chain with 225 acres of water, a maximum depth of 29 feet and an average depth of 16 feet. A channel large enough for a small boat to travel through connects North Lindstrom with 450-acre South Lindstrom Lake. The 34 foot deep lake is also connected to Chisago Lake which has 873 acres of water and a maximum depth of 32 feet. Little Green Lake (224 acres) and Green Lake (1,714 acres) were not part of what the Swedes called Big Lake, but they are considered part of the Chisago Lakes Chain of Lakes.
A variety of boat ramps maintained by both the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the cities that surround the lakes provide public access to the Chisago Lakes. Thousands of acres of water provide ample opportunities to boat, water ski, canoe, sail, kayak and swim. The lakes are considered fertile, and the fishing is plentiful. Black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike and pumpkinseed can all be found in the lakes, and the DNR periodically stocks them with walleye and other fish (see individual reports below.) Several fishing tournaments take place every year, and there are full service marinas on the lakes.
The area around the Chisago Lakes was settled by the Swedes in the late 1830's and includes a community of cities in and around the lakes. Center City, Chisago City and Lindstrom are all nestled in among the lakes and have restaurants, amenities and a variety of accommodations. Vacation rentals dot the lakes' shores, and there is real estate available for sale. Winter brings ice fishing and a network of snowmobile trails around the lakes.
The name Chisago evolved from the Native American word Ki-Chi-Saga meaning "fair and lovely waters." Regardless of the names, the Chisago Lakes are both fair and lovely, and together make a spectacular year round Minneapolis - St. Paul Metro region getaway.
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