In addition to the lovely resorts and private homes on the Whitefish Chain, there are several areas of shoreline that are public and managed by the DNR for natural preservation. These areas, called Aquatic Management Areas (or AMAs) are important to local wildlife and provide lake access to the public.
There are seven AMAs on or near the Whitefish Chain, scattered in several different areas. Marc Bacigalupi, fisheries manager for the Brainerd office of the DNR, said that the AMAs provide important wild areas for flora and fauna.
"They're a lot like the more well-known WMAs (wildlife management areas) that people are more familiar with," Bacigalupi said. Uppgaard Wildlife Management Area, on County Road 16, is a popular Whitefish Chain area WMA. It's an area where people can go that's managed for area wildlife.
AMAs, too, are areas that are managed for wildlife, whether terrestrial or aquatic.
"AMAs are a little more set aside because the main goal is to preserve critical aquatic habitat," Bacigalupi said. "Setting some shoreland aside, having some areas that are left alone is desireable."
The money to purchase public land for AMAs comes from the Minnesota Legacy Amendment. Because the pool of money is limited, Bacigalupi said that the areas for preservation are carefully selected as critical habitat. Fish spawning areas, for example, are great candidates for preservation.
Part of Hay Creek, for example, is an AMA. Hay Creek feeds into Lower Hay Lake on the Whitefish Chain, and is a spawning ground for local walleye. The DNR, along with help from the Whitefish Area Property Owners' Association (WAPOA), recently did some work on the creek to make it more conducive to spawning. They put a rock riffle in the bottom of the creek, which creates places for walleye eggs to attach and grow. In the spring, walleye can be seen swimming up the creek to spawn in that area.
Bacigalupi said that it's difficult to see whether the improvements to the creek made a noticeable impact on the walleye population in Lower Hay simply because the lake is often stocked with walleye fry (newborns). Nonetheless, it provides a good environment for natural spawning.
Part of the Rollie Johnson Islands, between Lower and Upper Whitefish lakes, is also an AMA. The northern shore of Big Island, as well as Little Island and Steamboat Island, are all protected as an AMA. These spaces are not only maintained as natural but are also popular for camping all summer long. Volunteers help maintain the campsites and keep them clean, and DNR approved firewood is provided to campers to prevent the spread of invasive species to the islands.
Other AMAs are large wetlands, which were once managed for northern pike spawning. But, since Bacigalupi said that fish studies and population counts now show that northern pike are plentiful, that's no longer the case. Today those areas are left to nature.
"Studies show that land that is undisturbed, that has less docks and less shoreland alterations, inhabits greater numbers of fish and wildlife of all different forms," Bacigalupi said.
In that way, the AMAs provide a good balance to the fun and recreation of the Whitefish Chain while providing areas for loons, turtles and more to reside. Unless otherwise posted, the public is welcome to enjoy the AMAs as lake access, for fishing, or for exploring.