SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA - On near-100-degree days, many would agree there's no better place to be than at a local lake.
For Catherine Thomas and her extended family, the Cottonwood Lake seemed like the ideal spot to hang out Monday during their annual summer get-together.
"We usually go to a hotel, but we decided to stay around here this year," said Thomas, who is from Clarkfield. "We thought we'd spend time and money in our own community."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Justin Thomas drives Maggie Jans toward shore after a jet ski ride while at a family get-together Monday at Cottonwood Lake.
On Monday, Thomas' daughter, Amanda Grinager, of Marshall and Thomas' sons, Sam, of Clarkfield, and Ben, of Ely, and their families spent the afternoon at the lake.
Thomas said her daughter Amanda did most of the organizing for the week-long family reunion.
"Amanda did a lot of the work and got it all lined up," Catherine Thomas said. "It turned out to be a good day to be at the lake."
Besides snacking and visiting in the shade, many of the adults in the Thomas clan, including Mike Jans and Jeremy Grinager, took turns water skiing or kneeboarding behind the jet ski.
The children, seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity, splashed around in the water.
"I'm having fun," said 8-year-old Kellen Thomas. "The best part was jet skiing."
Kellen Thomas spent a lot of time laughing and having a good time in the water with her cousin Abigail Thomas and her sisters Audrey and Clare Thomas, while cousins Matt Thomas, Logan Grinager and Alex Grinager floated on air mattresses and inner tubes.
"They all play really good together," Catherine Thomas said.
Just being together and connecting as a family is what it's all about, family members said, but the experience is even better when there's a good deal of fun involved.
"I think we're planning to come back (to Cottonwood Lake) on Thursday," Ben Thomas said.
In the heat of a Monday afternoon, things were looking pretty quiet around Lake Benton. Only one boat could be seen out on the water, and there weren't any anglers to be found along the southern edge of the lake's shore, in the city of Lake Benton.
But appearances can be deceiving, local residents said - after all, it was a weekday.
Having a nearby lake can be a valuable asset for a town, in different ways. Recreation at a lake can attract seasonal visitors and business. For local residents, a lake can be part of their community's identity, as well a place to relax or beat the heat.
"It's been busy," said Renee Ambrose, between serving customers at Veire's Mini Mart in Lake Benton. "The heat should have cut back on the fishing, but it hasn't."
In Lake Benton, the lake is much more than the city's namesake. Every year, it attracts anglers and vacationers, which also brings customers to local businesses like Veire's. The mini mart and gas station sells fishing supplies and licenses, so a lot of people bound for the lake stop there.
The summer traffic is important for business, she said. "That's what gets us through."
Ambrose said Lake Benton residents often like to fish from the lakeshore in town, and a local resort also operates in the same area. Nearby campgrounds on the lake also draw customers.
More than two dozen campers and RVs were parked not far from the waterfront at the Norwegian Creek Park campground, north of Lake Benton.
In Balaton, a park on the shores of Lake Yankton can be a popular spot for fishing or swimming, local residents said. The seasonal traffic often stops at Benson's by the Lake to grab supplies, Brock Benson said.
"It's been kind of quiet the last week or so, but it usually gets pretty busy," Benson said. "I think a lot of people who come here are local. Sometimes they're on their way to the lake."
It's possible the heat has been behind this summer's quiet spell, discouraging people from going out on the lake or fishing, he said. There were some definite signs of dry conditions at the public water access across U.S. Highway 14 from Benson's. The dock alongside the boat launch was riding a few inches above the waterline. But the heat doesn't stop everyone, especially on weekends.
"It gets used a lot," Benson said of the lake.
The city of Hendricks has its city park and campgrounds all but incorporated with Lake Hendricks with a fishing dock, boat landing, swimming beach and picnic shelter along the lake. The campground also includes a shower facility with hot water.
Hendricks City Administrator David Blees said the lake area has been plenty busy this summer and said the lake is a major tool the city uses when promoting the city.
"Everytime we talk about promoting Hendricks, the lake is probably one of the top things we talk about," Blees said. "Whether it's getting people over here to fish or over to the beach Having a lake here is a huge asset to the community."