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Located near the southwestern corner of the state, Lake Shetek is one of the best known of Minnesota Southern Region Lakes. Shetek means pelican in the Ojibway language; indeed, lakes named for some variation of the word are found across the migratory flyway of these majestic birds. One of a group of prairie pothole lakes, Lake Shetek figures prominently in early Minnesota history. The area was certainly home to many members of the various tribes of Native Americans inhabiting the prairie before the advent of white settlers. White settlement here was likely the result of a hoax in the effort to attain statehood-sized population numbers for Minnesota; settlers arrived to find the village of Shetek did not exist except as a fictitious population center on paper. The hardy pioneers decided to stay anyway and built their cabins just east of the lake. The Dakota Uprising of 1862, which occurred because of government failure to provide promised food for local tribes, caused the settlement to come under surprise attack. Some were killed, others taken prisoner. The resultant military action to quell the widespread attacks drove the majority of Dakota out of Minnesota forever. A monument to the lives lost stands at the entrance to the Lake Shetek State Park on the eastern shore.
Lake Shetek is generally considered the headwaters basin for the Des Moines River. However, the river does not start at Lake Shetek but nearly 30 miles to the northeast where it flows out of Long Lake to what is known as the Lake Shetek Inlet. In fact, Lake Shetek is connected to several small lakes around its perimeter, including Bloody Lake, Armstrong Slough, Webster Slough, Park Lake, Smith Lake and Fremont Lake. Two of these lakes were dug by WPA workers as rearing ponds for state fisheries in the 1930s. Others are more accurately termed flooded marsh lands. Lake Shetek itself is only 10 feet deep at it's deepest spot and sports several islands - now all connected to the main shore by causeways. Downstream, a small dam originally built by early settlers to the area for milling purposes has been repaired and is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The dam does little except regulate water levels; during the 1993 flooding of the Des Moines River, water from downstream backed up and over-topped the dam releasing channel catfish into Lake Shetek for the first time.
Lake Shetek State Park on the east shore also holds early Minnesota history. During the Great Depression, the US Government brought 200 homeless and transient men to Lake Shetek to build one of the earliest state parks in the Minnesota system. Originally planned as a future group camp for the underprivileged, the original WPA buildings present an excellent example of rustic-style split stone architecture and are some of the finest in Minnesota. Some of the group buildings are still in use by the State park system; others were eventually sold, along with the land and function as a church camp. The causeways built at that time are still in use. The State Park has expanded the historical exhibits to include several cabins from the time of the original settlers. Facilities for boat launch, swimming, wildlife viewing, birding and fishing docks have been constructed for the enjoyment of park visitors. Canoes are available for rent at the park. Loon Island, a 45-acre bird sanctuary, is accessible on foot via a causeway and includes an interpretive trail. Camping facilities are available also.
The area within and around the park is supplied with many trails for hiking and cycling, Some allow horseback riding. One popular trail meanders along the Des Moines River past the dam to the Village of Currie where an historic railroading museum has been developed, complete with engine turn style, old engines, depot and exhibits of early railroad history in the area. This portion of the Casey Jones Trail is not available for horseback riding, unfortunately.
Fishing is always popular at Lake Shetek. Although the original stocking ponds at the park are no longer in use, except as small fishing ponds, the Minnesota DNR regularly stocks the most popular gamefish. A mechanical aeration system was installed in the northern portion of the lake in the winter of 1974-75. Murray County keeps the system in operation during winter months in order to keep oxygen levels at a high enough rate to avoid winter-kill. Walleyes, northern pike, bullheads, bluegill, perch and crappies are among the more popular fish at Lake Shetek and ice fishing season nearly as popular as summer boat fishing.
The lake is popular for all types of water sports, with water skiing, sailing, pontooning, tubing, kayaking and personal water craft sharing the lake on sunny summer week-ends. Lake Shetek has been a popular vacation destination for nearly a century and much of the shoreline is dotted with summer cottages and year-round homes. Several resorts have operated along the shoreline form many years and repeat visitors often reserve their favorite vacation rentals a year in advance. The shallow waters and sandy beaches make Lake Shetek a favorite vacation destination among those with children: they will find miles of trails and quiet roads here upon which to ride their bicycles and skateboard. Murray County hosts 78 Wildlife Management Areas, some within sight of Lake Shetek. Here can be found white-tailed deer, pheasant, ducks and geese, Hungarian partridge, crow, squirrels, rabbits, raccoon, fox and coyotes. The State DNR provides a down-loadable booklet as a bird-watching checklist for the convenience of birders.
Hunters often arrive during the fall to find lodgings for deer season or the pheasant hunt. The many trails provide winter fun for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Lake Shetek guarantees four seasons of sport and fun for the visitor.
The small village of The Lakes at the north end of the lake provides such necessities as groceries and gas. Several restaurants and drinking establishments around the lake assure the lonely hunter or fisherman can find a warm fire and new friends in the evening. The town of Currie is only six miles away, with more shops and regularly scheduled festivals and events to delight visitors. Eight miles to the south of Lake Shetek, the county seat of Slayton has a small racetrack where stock car races are held weekly. Other events are always going on for the first-time visitor to discover.
Real estate listing show a variety of properties available in the area, from lakefront cottages to small farms. Vacation rentals and lodgings are plentiful but reservations are recommended in advance of popular holiday week-ends. Every possible type of vacation lodging is found in the area, from bed-and-breakfast establishments to privately-owned vacation homes. At 170 miles from Minneapolis-St Paul and 270 miles from Des Moines, the area is at the perfect distance to make a week-end get-away as feasible as a week-long break. Lake Shetek is waiting for your visit. Come soon!
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