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Then came the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. By 1933, records show, the cost of the drainage project had reached $1 million without the farming success that had been predicted.

"The county was in terrific financial difficulties," Sannes said. "And that seemed to be one way to be able to bail both the state and the county out was to turn it over to the federal government again."

So began a process to restore the wetlands by establishing dikes and water control structures, much of which was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The refuge in 1961 was renamed Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, and today, the refuge covers 61,500 acres.

"Everything here was settled by 1890, and that was the last area to be settled in the county," Sannes said. "It was a land rush, really the last free land there was."The Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Agassiz refuge describes the land before settlement as a "boggy wilderness, checkered with wetlands and ponds." In 1909, the plan explains, state, local and private interests embarked on a massive drainage project to convert the landscape to farmland.

According to DelRay Sannes of Holt, Minn., the effort to develop what then was known as Mud Lake into farmland came at the end of the European immigration wave. Sannes' grandfather, Hilmer Moberg, was among the 150 to 200 homesteaders to settle in the Mud Lake area of Marshall County.

´╗┐Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge celebrates 75th anniversary

Located northeast of Thief River Falls, Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge was established March 23, 1937, by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as Mud Lake Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. The designation officially ended an experiment that began in 1909 to drain the land for farming.

According to the refuge's conservation plan, the Minnesota Conservation Department precursor of today's Department of Natural Resources acquired more than 55,000 acres of the tax forfeited land, which it sold to the federal government in 1937.

"It really created a lot of hard feelings in this area," said Sannes, a retired English teacher. "I've known quite a few of them over the years, and those hard feelings lasted it still is around even in the next generation, people who had never lived out there.

Sannes, who helped compile a history of the settlement and eventual relocation called "Memories of the Mud Lake Pioneers," said losing their land was difficult for the "Mud Lakers" who had called the area home.