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With over 2000 acres of water hidden behind an unassuming name, Farm Island Lake is sheer Central Minnesota delight. The lake is named for the largest of its three small islands; 29-acre Farm Island was the site of large farm fields by the Ojibwa who first inhabited the area. Now, it holds a few exclusive private homes, accessible only by water. The other two small islands also hold a handful of homes. Wild, untamed space is one of the most striking features at Farm Island Lake; much of the shoreline is pristine with the few higher-end housing developments well-spaced and generously sheltered by trees. And under the clear, clean waters live that favorite prey of Minnesota anglers, the walleye.
Water fun is almost mandatory here, and the lake is large enough for water skiing and other fast-paced watersports. Two public boat launch ramps allow access to the lake from both north and south ends. Farm Island Lake is surrounded by other lakes both big and small (Mille Lacs Lake is only five miles away), so it gets less fishing and boating pressure than other, better-known lakes nearby. That makes the lake a quiet refuge for both homeowners and visitors to the two resorts nestled along the shore. Although there are fewer resort lodges at Farm Island Lake than years past, those that remain have been the vacation destinations of many families for generations. The resorts sell many of the necessary staples visitors will need. Both resorts offer housekeeping cabins, campground space, docks, boat rentals and a few groceries along with the ever-necessary fishing licenses. One offers seasonal RV spaces and RV lots for purchase. The other makes sure to have at least one cabin open for winter ice fishing guests. Both offer sandy swim beaches and provisions for anglers who arrive via float plane.
Farm Island Lake is probably best known as a fishing destination. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) stocks walleye fingerlings three out of four years. The waters also hold northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and yellow perch. A slot limit on walleye prevents fishermen from keeping those between 16 and 19 inches to encourage larger fish in the future. Because the uneven lake floor holds both relatively deep holes and shallow spots resembling sunken islands, there is plenty of structure for fish habitat. The lake is one of several located along the Ripple River (formerly Mud River) which winds its way through the many lakes in the area to empty into the Mississippi River near Aiken seven miles away. There are a couple of small towns along the north shore of Mille Lacs Lake, so bait, supplies, gas and food are just a short drive away.
Winter is nearly as popular as summer to visit the Farm Island Lake area. Ice fishing is a serious sport, with ice fishermen arriving to rent ice shanties, brave the cold and hopefully pull in a trophy fish. The sport is so celebrated locally that nearby Aiken hosts its "World Famous Fishhouse Parade" the day after Thanksgiving each year. Typical of the kind of humor often exhibited by people who voluntarily spend hundreds of hours living in a temporary shelter on the ice (although some actually have satellite TV, cooking facilities and rudimentary plumbing), the gaudily-decorated ice fishing houses are paraded through the streets on floats amid a festival dedicated to just plain silliness. Thousands of observers come from miles around to view the unusual sights.
Farm Island Lake has so far escaped the entry of most invasive species of aquatic plants. Years of eradication efforts have Curly Pond Weed down to a few small patches, considered as being under control. In recent years the MDNR has instituted boat inspections on arriving boats at both public boat ramps. The local Farm Island Lake Association trains and organizes volunteers from among its members to assist with inspections. The lake association also works to coordinate community events such as a boat parade each year and opportunities for members to get to know one another, promoting a sense of community. Other activities include boating safety, including necessary buoy placement, a loon nesting program, water quality and invasive plant monitoring, road clean-up and donations of needed funds to both local police and fire departments.
The only piece of public land along the shore is the 38-acre Farm Island Lake Wildlife Management Area at the south end of the lake. The WMA consists almost entirely of marsh and bog lands and harbors a large number of waterfowl. The area is only accessible from Farm Island Lake. There are no organized trails at the lake itself, but the quiet residential roads around the lake are ideal for walking, cycling and nature viewing. Those wishing to enjoy public lands are only a couple of miles or so from Wealthwood State Forest. A major snowmobile trail crosses Wealthwood diagonally and skirts Farm Island Lake on the east side at the main road. The trail can be used year round for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Dispersed camping is permitted in certain areas of Wealthwood, as are off-road vehicles. Two large campgrounds and many acres of public land are located at the south end of Mille Lacs Lake at Father Hennepin State Park and Mille Lacs Kathio State Parks.
No visit to the area is complete without a stop at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post. A partnership project between the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Minnesota Historical Society, the exhibits trace the history, culture and life issues of the local Mille Lacs band. The trading post sells authentic handcrafts made by residents on the nearby Mille Lacs Reserve. The reservation is private property, but the band has capitalized on the interests of visitors with a nearby full-service casino.
Only a hundred miles from Duluth and two hours by car from the Twin Cities, Farm Island Lake is accessible for either a short weekend or a longer stay. Motels, bed & breakfasts, guest cottages, private rentals and other lodging opportunities are available near the lake. These facilities and the local restaurants, cafes and family taverns are handy for meals and a good night's sleep. Real estate is available in a wide range of prices. So, come experience Farm Island Lake.
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