Our state bird has gotten a little more help, thanks to the Welding program at SCTCC. The loons on Big Mantrap Lake just northeast of Park Rapids have been using nesting rafts built by Welding students since 2012.
Every year, students build loon pontoon rafts to showcase applied learning in preparation for professional, scholarly, and civic lives after graduation. Each new class makes modifications that reflect course requirements, such as metallurgy and fabrication courses.
Two types of rafts are built: one with a canopy and one with no canopy that keeps a low profile for protected waters.
Building these rafts provides students with positive experiential learning, and students can see they’re making a difference when the end results are shared.
Not only is the loon pontoon project a success in the classroom, but it’s helping the loon population as well.
In 2016, nearly 73% of loon eggs were laid on the rafts, with the remaining in natural nests. The hatch rate for the raft versus the nest was pretty substantial: there was an 86% hatch rate on the raft versus 36% on the natural nest.
While not related to the loon rafts, the number of loons on Big Mantrap Lake has really rebounded in just 20 years – in 1996 there were 28 loons and 11 nesting pair, and in 2016, 68 loons and 23 nesting pair. The higher hatch rate using Welding’s rafts means more loons in the future.
Big Mantrap Lake started documenting the hatch rates for raft versus natural nests in 2012, and all five years have seen a much higher rate of loons using rafts than natural nests.
Loon rafts are available from the Welding program for about $200. Anyone interested in them should contact Chuck Haus.