With improved water quality, Stillwater tries to highlight Lily Lake’s potential
After two decades of work to improve water quality at a Stillwater lake, local officials are now trying to continue that momentum and help the area realize its potential.
Officials say Lily Lake used to be a focal point of Stillwater.
“It was historically kind of a recreation place for all the people in Stillwater and also coming out from St. Paul and some of the more populated areas in early Minnesota,” said Matthew Downing of the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization. “It was a good place to go swimming, fishing, and do all those sorts of things.”
But urban development and untreated runoff took a major toll on the lake’s water quality and, in 2002, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency listed it as impaired for aquatic recreation.
Six years later, the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization (WMO) and the city started work to try to turn that around and improve water quality.
“We’ve been working since 2002 to reverse that trend and bring it back into a clear water state and make it a regional gem again, but it has taken a lot of work and a lot of time,” Downing said.
It took 20 years but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed off on formally removing Lily Lake from the aquatic recreation impaired list last year.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) notes that water quality last year averaged about 16½ feet in the lake compared to just over 6½ feet in 2021.
Now, local organizations are working with the city and WMO to keep that momentum going.
“We were trying more creative ways to make use of the park,” Mike Lyner, president and chairman of Friends of Lily Lake, one of the groups working with the city and WMO, told the BWSR. “What can we do to make the park more special again?”
The goal is to get Lily Lake and the adjacent park back to being the heart of the city.
“I think that’s where we’re moving forward. The community groups are very involved in that part of the process and doing visioning sessions to really bring the community and the lake back together instead of being a forgotten part of Stillwater,” said Downing.
Tennis courts were updated a few years ago and a pickleball court was also installed. This year, the city resurfaced two parking lots at the park, and a revamp of the park playground is scheduled for next year.
While there still aren’t any plans to allow swimming at the lake, which has been closed since a child died after ingesting a “brain-eating amoeba” in 2012, the city is currently building a floating launch for kayaks, paddleboards and canoes.