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Shepards Lake or Lake Robert? Groups petition to name lake near Cottage Grove-Woodbury border

The lake is located near Jamaica Avenue and the border between Cottage Grove and Woodbury. RiverTown Multimedia / William Loeffler 1 / 2
The lake is currently unnamed, known in records only as 82-83W. Courtesy of the city of Cottage Grove 2 / 2

This story was updated 10:50 a.m. Aug. 7, 2018. 

COTTAGE GROVE — What’s in a name?

For the Wolterstorff family, it’s a lot of heritage, memories and honor. For some long-time Cottage Grove residents, it’s history, local tradition and recognition.

A lake just west of Jamaica Avenue and south of the Woodbury border has remained unnamed for decades, but a petition by the Wolterstorff family spurred some competition for its name.

The Wolterstorffs are hoping to secure the name Lake Robert, in reference to Robert Wolterstorff, a long-time Cottage Grove resident and farmer whose family has lived on land surrounding the lake for decades, raising cattle, corn, soybeans and wheat.

Robert’s son, David Wolterstorff, said Robert died 11 years ago, and was very involved in the city, the county and Washington County Fair.

“He was the kind of person to drop everything and help you when you needed it,” David Wolterstorff said. “We wanted to honor him.”

With development ramping up around the area of the lake, he said they “really thought that a piece of proud water should have a name.”

For some other residents, the name Lake Robert goes against the local tradition of referring to the body of water as Shepards Lake.

Bev Gross — who said she’s lived in the city for over 80 years and is a long-time member of Cottage Grove and Washington County historical societies — submitted her own petition Aug. 3.

The Advisory Committee and Historic Preservation drafted a letter to send to Washington County before the Aug. 7 public hearing, recommending the name Shepards Lake.

“Locally it’s known as Shepards Pond … so when the Historic Preservation Committee looked at it, they recognized the community’s knowledge,” Community Development Director Jennifer Levitt said. “The Historic Preservation Committee thought it would be important to keep that tie to that feature and the prominent resident he was in our community.”

City Council voted 5-0 at the Aug. 1 meeting to replace the name Shepards Lake with Lake Robert in the letter they sent to the county.

Gross then filed her own petition after the vote, keeping the Shepards Lake option on the table.

“We should keep it like we’ve always, always called it,” Gross said.

Gross, a local historian, said Roger and Katherine Shepard bought property in Cottage Grove just south of the lake around 1920. Roger Shepard was part of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis and a St. Paul attorney.

Their daughter Constance Shepard-Otis, who died in 2013, entered the property into a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust. That property was recently given to the Dodge Nature Center, which named it the Shepard Farm Property, to become an environmental education campus.

Gross and other supporters spoke at the board meeting in favor of the name Shepards Lake.

Herb Japs, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, suggested at the board meeting to name the lake after Alexander McHattie, also a farmer of the land around the lake and and David Wolterstorff’s ancestor.

“The point of Historic Preservation is to recognize important locations, sites, buildings, work to preserve them and then use those tools to educate people about them,” he said. “When we forget where we came from, I think we lose a lot.”

Council member Steve Dennis spoke at the board meeting in favor of the name Lake Robert.

“Shepard… is already being honored in our community,” he said, with Dodge Nature Center’s Shepard Farm.  

Pete Boulay, assistant state climatologist with the DNR, said at the board meeting the state would accept either Lake Robert or Shepard Lake.

“Both names would be unique in Minnesota,” he said.

Washington County Property Records Director Jennifer Wagenius said that now that each petitioner has gathered at least 15 signatures, the county board holds a public hearing.

After the board recommends a name, they send it to the Department of Natural Resources for review.

“DNR has final approval,” Wagenius said.

The vote was postponed to Aug. 28 to take additional testimony.