RUSO Of the many lakes in McLean County, Strawberry Lake ranks high on the list according to those who spend countless hours there in summertime.
Strawberry Lake is located just west of Highway 41, about midway between Velva and Turtle Lake. It is large enough to be home to more than 150 cabins, many of which have been substantially upgraded in recent years or replaced by new construction. The lake today is much different than it was in the late 1950s.
"My father had bought the whole north side of the lake in 1958," said Polly Abernathy. "At that time it was nothing but a swamp with a prairie trail leading to the water. He died while surveying it and my mother took it over and developed it into lots."
More than 150 cabins line the shore of Strawberry Lake in McLean County. A number of the cabins have remained in the family for many years.
Polly and her husband, Jim Abernathy, have been regulars at Strawberry Lake since the early 1970s. They razed the original cabin on their lot and built a new home on the same location in 2004.
"We really enjoy it out here. It's just a good, family lake," said Polly Abernathy.
Jim Abernathy was quick to agree, saying, "It's just a friendly lake. Everybody knows everybody. It's a clean lake too."
Jim Abernathy should know. He helps maintain and operate a "mudcat," a weedcutter that helps keep down excess growth in Strawberry Lake.
A small dam at the south end of the lake keeps the level of water in Strawberry remarkably consistent. The lake is spring fed, which many say is responsible for its superb water clarity.
Although water skiers and jet skiers make use of the lake, there is room for fishermen too. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has stocked northern pike and walleye in Strawberry Lake, the most recent being the input of 21,000 walleye fingerlings in 2010. Bluegill and perch are also found in abundance in Strawberry.
The real attraction though, remains the lake and the atmosphere that it contains. Regulars often talk about Strawberry using words like "peaceful" and "relaxing."
"I like it because it is quiet. The people are nice and respectful. The cabins are looking awesome. It's just a nice place to relax," said Alison Smith, a Mandan resident who owns a cabin at Strawberry. "I've been here for 35 or more years."
So popular are cabins or frontage at Strawberry Lake that property seldom leaves a family. Many of the sites have been handed down from generation to generation. It is a gathering place for families too.
"My husband has been here since 1953. He inherited it. We just kind of built it up. We were married in 1964," said Norma Rist. "It's a great lake with great people. It's just a great place to be."
Curt Pellet enjoys his Strawberry Lake home as a getaway from his job as sheriff of Wells County. He is surrounded by family too.
"It is peaceful and relaxing. The water looks like tap water," said Pellet. "My father-in-law had a cabin five (lots) away from me. Now a brother-in-law is two away and a sister is eight or nine lots away. It's kind of nice on weekends with family members around. It is just a nice place to go. Everybody pretty much knows everybody."
"We are the first ones down here every year," added Dianne Pellett.
Dennis Schmitz is another regular at Strawberry Lake. He spends his summers at Strawberry and his winters in Arizona.
"My folks had this place for 25 years and sold it in 1998," recalled Schmitz. "About seven years later I bought it back. It is just a fun place to spend the summer."
Strawberry Lake has a public boat ramp, dock and swimming area. With 156 cabins at last count, it has become its own community. Demand for lots and cabins has increased property values around the lake, a far cry from the early days of development along the lakefront.
"Nowadays they've built some might fancy cabins. It's quite a lake," said Pellet. "We even have our own little fire department. We have one of Butte's old trucks in a quonset here and they train people at the lake to run it."
Jim and Norma Rist have a cabin at the lake and a home in Velva. They also operate the Strawberry Cooler, located immediately north of the lake. It is there that bingo and poker tournaments are held to raise money for the Strawberry Lake Improvement Association. Meals are served there too, attracting lake dwellers from Strawberry and other points in McLean County.
"Strawberry has gotten to be a family place. Our son and our daughter have cabins here," said Norma Rist. "Once you get that lake life in you, it just stays with you."