Dam seen as adding to Lake Louise State Park’s natural resources

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2001

LEROY – A discussion of the future of the dam of the Upper Iowa River waters at Lake Louise State Park has begun.

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

LEROY – A discussion of the future of the dam of the Upper Iowa River waters at Lake Louise State Park has begun.

Email newsletter signup

After only one meeting, the early indication is citizens give a dam a good chance of adding to the natural resources at the LeRoy state park.

But the naturalists also must consider the benefits of removing the dam, because much of what was natural in Lake Louise State Park has been changed by raising the water table.

While repairing and keeping the dam may be an early favorite option, restoring the Upper Iowa River would create a stable environment for future park development.

If the dam goes, some fear it will be a desecration of a historic site. That’s why the informational meetings to decide the dam’s future are so important.

The first meeting took place last Thursday when the Prairie Visions organization met at the LeRoy Community Center. Inclement winter weather threatened to force the meeting’s cancellation on that winter’s day, but the meeting was held and 75 attended, which Margie and Gerald Meier, two Prairie Visions volunteers, said indicated interest is high for the dam’s future.

"Not only were there the seniors, who have always supported the state park at the meeting, but also there were others, younger people with children, who also are concerned about the dam," Margie Meier said.

Lake Louise State Park is Minnesota’s oldest, continuous recreation area dating back to 1853.

The Upper Iowa River originally was dammed to provide power for a grist mill. Two spring-fed streams join in the 1,168-acre park to form the Upper Iowa River. The dam impounded water to form a lake that is used by state park visitors for fishing, canoeing and swimming.

Shawn Donais, manager of Lake Louise State Park, is due for reassignment soon. However, Donais was vocal at last week’s meeting about the park’s viability and how the dam can help guarantee that.

According to Donais, monies have been set aside by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for the repair, replacement or removal of the dam, which for the last two years has been battered by flood waters and continues to fill with silt.

He estimated three costly floods in 24 months time have added another 9 inches of sediment to the lake bed.

"The dirt is obviously coming from the entire watershed from easily erodible soils and also related to land practices in and around the park," he told the meeting audience. "This issue is not a removal of the dam – we no longer have a lake. It’s filling up with sediment. "

But, Donais also believes to remove the dam will both change the aesthetics of the state park and a magnet for attracting visitors to outdoor recreation opportunities.

Also removing the dam would mean a break with the more-than-a-century-old state park name and invite a change back to the original name, Wildwood Park.

However, every option is expensive.

Repair would cost a minimum of $200,000 and possibly as much as $250,000. Dredging could put the cost more than $500,000.

Also looming over the concerns for the dam is a proposal to expand the horse area and major improvements to the state’s park’s 30-year-old sanitation and shower building.

The horse area expansion could cost $88,000 and the sanitation and shower building improvements could cost $250,000.

Lake Louise State Park attracts 4,000 campers and 39,000 total visitors annually.

The park’s environmental watershed is 63 square miles with 2.3 miles of shoreline and 26 acres of lake waters.

According to Donais, removing the dam would allow the natural migration of fish and shellfish and improve the habitat for small mouth bass.

It also would restore the natural cycle of the Upper Iowa River, allowing the sediments to flow downstream.

"Moving water would have higher oxygen content benefiting game fish and helping to break down nitrates in the river," he said.

Also, Donais said the river level drops 8 feet or more in the state park, which could provide for "some nice rapids with the sounds of moving and falling waters."

According to Eileen Hutchins, president of Prairie Visions, more informational meetings will be held to receive more input from area citizens on their wishes for the future of the dam.