Pelican Lakes Association's book captures history and makes connections

The book is available for purchase at the association's website,

Susan Koering and James Henderson
Pelican Lakes Association President Susan Koering and book editor James Henderson pose with the association's new book at Henderson's cabin July 21, 2022.
Megan Buffington / Echo Journal

CROW WING COUNTY — A steamboat on Pelican Lake, a forgotten hotel with a hint of arson and past connections to a local artist are just a few of the interesting stories that were almost lost to history.

The Pelican Lakes Association's new book, “Life on the Lakes: A History of the Pelican Lakes in Crow Wing County,” aims to capture and immortalize these tales before it's too late.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, PLA President Susan Koering was searching for alternate ways to host the association’s annual meeting. Her first idea, like so many others, was to have the meeting online.

She got a call from a Lake Washburn/Outing resident asking if the PLA bylaws allowed for an online meeting. That led to Koering going to the Lake Washburn Association website where she saw they had published a book.

“I thought, ‘Oh boy, we better do something because we have too much history we’re gonna lose if we don’t capture the people who are right here, now,’” Koering said.


The PLA board looked to James Henderson, who had been writing historical articles for their newsletters since around 2010.

“And of course, then immediately it came up, well, who’s going to be the editor? How are we going to get this done?” Henderson said. “And my initial reaction, Susan would tell you, was, ‘No, I don’t want to be involved.’”

Henderson knew what went into writing a history book. He had written several others, including one about a forest service camp that had existed just down the road from his Pelican Lake cabin, “Lost in the Woods: The Legacy of CCC Camp Pelican.”

“I knew the effort required to do the research. I mean, it’s pretty all consuming,” Henderson said. “I had saved so much stuff from the earlier work that I did, I finally just decided, well, I might as well do it.”

And my initial reaction, Susan would tell you, was, 'No, I don’t want to be involved.'
James Henderson

While Henderson had a lot of material and reference documents from his time researching Camp Pelican, there was still a lot to gather.

“Six hours a day, my wife could tell you, contacting people, interviewing people,” Henderson said. “I discovered a lot of interesting things about the lake based on that, got to meet a lot of new people.”

The book includes stories from people on the lake, as well as history on the resorts, fishing, land use and development, significant weather events, sailing and local organizations.

The comprehensive book ensures that people’s memories of the lake are recorded, but also that work like the PLA’s years of water quality monitoring aren’t forgotten.


“I think it’s important for all of us to be good stewards of the lake, and they’re not making any more of these (lakes). So, we need to preserve what we got. And there are a lot of challenges related to water quality and climate change and so on, and we need to keep on top of all that,” Henderson said. “So, hopefully by kind of summarizing the stuff during the past 120 years will offer people in the future a reference point.”

Koering also sees the book as a great conversation starter, linking the past, present and future of generations of lake residents and visitors.

“I see the excitement about people buying (the book). One lady bought eight books to give as gifts and even to her children. And then she came back and got another one for a resort owner to make sure they got one,” Koering said.

So, we need to preserve what we got. And there are a lot of challenges related to water quality and climate change and so on, and we need to keep on top of all that.
James Henderson

The PLA hopes other lake associations might follow in their footsteps and record the history of their lake and others’ stories. Koering hopes the books provoke an appreciation for the environment of not only Pelican Lake, but other lakes in the area.

“It’s just capturing what’s real and what’s going on,” Koering said.

Those interested in purchasing the book are encouraged to visit to order or to see where sale and pickup locations are available in the coming weeks.

Upcoming sales/pickups

  • Aug. 6: Breezy Point Marina shelter area, 9-11 a.m.
  • Aug. 13: Pelican Lake Conservation Club breakfast, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
  • Aug. 27: Breezy Point Marina shelter area, 9-11 a.m.
  • Sept. 14: Pelican Lake Conservation Club steak fry dinner, 5-7 p.m.

Megan Buffington, Echo Journal intern, may be reached at 218-855-5854 or . She is a 2021 Pequot Lakes High School graduate who attends the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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