DEVILS LAKE They come to fish. They come to camp. They come to enjoy the water, the scenery and the experience offered by Grahams Island State Park.
Two years ago Grahams Island hosted visitors from 49 different states. Last year, despite an entrance road clogged by construction equipment and travel delays, 43 states were represented.
"Those people at the cleaning station are from Alaska," said Henry Duray, park manager, while pointing to a covered facility directly across the road from the park's bait shop. "They stayed here their limit, 14 days, and don't want to go."
The reason? For many it is fishing, the best fishing they have ever experienced. Devils Lake has become nationally renowned for walleye and perch fishing. The lake's northern pike population is considered to be at all all-time high. There's an abundant population of white bass too.
"How do you keep good fishing a secret? It can't be done," said Duray. "Devils Lake is a superb fishery. It's all about fishing. People come here from all over the country."
While visitors come to fish, limits are often caught within a few hours on the water. For many, that means more and more time to spend in the park. The park has responded by improving facilities, such as changing the slope of the boat ramp to make is much easier to launch and load boats.
Not far from the boat ramp is a 10-acre plot of tall grass punctuated by colorful flowers. It is a native planting that has begun to come of age.
"This restoration is in its third year. As you can see, the flowers are getting kind of showy," said Duray while standing in knee-high grass dotted with the brilliance of native coneflowers. "We decided to get some native grass area re-established. This is what native prairie looks like."
The prairie restoration project has been incorporated into the park's walking trails system. Currently the trail stretches a mile and a half along the prairie, through some trees and along the edge of Devils Lake. The master plan includes the possible extension of the trail through a 300-acre woodland.
"In a park people like two things, trees and water," remarked Duray.
The water is there, expanding every year. At Grahams Island so are the trees and shrubs. A centerpiece to the park is a new planting designed to enhance the appearance of one of the largest open areas on the island.
"There's 12,500 trees and shrubs here," noted Duray while surveying the progress of growth of the new plants. "They were planted about a month ago."
Duray explained that the planting was made possible by a Public Service Commission regulation that requires companies installing pipelines to replace every tree or shrub they remove with two new ones. Enbridge Pipeline Corporation offered the plants as compensation for a pipeline they installed.
"Some landowners didn't want them, so we said we were interested," said Duray. "They gave us the money to buy the trees, plant the trees and a few other things."
The tree and shrub planting is adjacent to a very big addition to the park a new 48-unit campground. The pull-through sites feature 50 amp electrical service, water hydrants and sewer hook-ups. The project was started last fall. Grass has begun to grow in the new area. Duray is hopeful that the park's newest section will be open for business in August.
"There's been a demand for campsites here for quite a while, a pressing demand," said Duray. "This is really the only public park on Devils Lake."
Two years ago Grahams Island topped 100,000 visitors with over 10,000 camping nights sold. That was enough activity to place Grahams Island number one among state parks in terms of camping nights. With a new camping area soon to be open for business, it is expected the number of visitations to Grahams Island will rise accordingly.
The new camping area will become the fourth camping unit within the park. A popular camping area is located in a wooded area. It provides seclusion sought by some visitors.
"People don't realize there's a campground there. For some it is their favorite place," said Duray. "Some people like heavy trees. Another of our campgrounds is more open and we have a primitive camping area."
Grahams Island also boasts four small sleeping cabins. The demand for them is consistent. Cabin occupancy is estimated by Duray at 98 percent. He'd like to add more of them, if funding can be obtained.
Another project in the planning stages is a new visitor's center and office near the entrance to the park. Currently a bait shop and small store serves as the checkpoint for visitors. The addition of a visitor's center would help tell the history of Grahams Island and Devils Lake.
Grahams Island is located 10 miles west of Devils Lake on Highway 19, then five miles south on what is known as the Grahams Island Road. The road connects the island park to the surrounding terrain.