The Pine River Dam got a face lift recently, and the dedication of the new, or rather, re-newed dam will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
The dam, in Crosslake on the east side of Cross Lake of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, underwent a major rehabilitation project, started in 1999 and completed last summer, to bring the dam up to current safety standards and modify the dam for its current uses, which have changed slightly since it was built. The rehabilitation was undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the group originally chosen by the state to undertake the dam project when it was first built in the late 1800s. Pine River is a federally owned dam, and USACE is responsible for its operation.
The dam and recreation area is poised for a dedication ceremony this Saturday, open to the public.
The dam was built in 1886, and upgraded in 1904, replacing the original wood dam with the concrete structure that endured the last 105 years until the recent rehabilitation project.
The average life expectancy of dams nationwide is about 49 years, said Ray Nelson, resource manager at Pine River Dam.
When the dam was first built, it was an all-wood structure, with the purpose of providing a consistent water source for the Mississippi River during the summer months. The river would dry out near the Twin Cities close to the end of summer often a bit of a snag for transporting goods on the river, an even bigger problem when the Twin Cities were just beginning to grow in population at that time.
The building of the dam in Crosslake, which at the time hadn't been founded, allowed for water to be held back in the lakes and reservoirs, to be released into streams that fed into the Mississippi when needed.
Additionally, when Brainerd lakes area began logging, the dam was used to transport logs into the cities and farther down the river, as well as power the mills themselves.
The dam is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which restricted the new design project to an extent. When updating a historic place, the new design has to look almost the same as the old one, in order to preserve the historic integrity of the site, said Nelson.
The project started in 1999 and cost about $7 million to fund. This included improvements to 16 dikes on the Whitefish chain of lakes, and was funded by tax money, approved by Congress.
At the beginning of the project, project manager Nanette Bischoff said that there was some controversy in the area, particularly concerning misinformation and a lack of information provided to the public. After a series of public meetings, Bischoff said that the public began to have many of its questions answered.
"We should have coordinated our intentions more with the local community," said Bischoff. The public had concerns with the amount of construction, what was to be done, and how much of the area was to be disrupted during the project."
Construction of the new dam included doubling the capacity of the gate openings, in order to further protect from flooding, said Nelson. The gates are now 6 feet by 12 feet each, said Bischoff.
"The flow capacity was undersized ... based on current dam design standards," said Bischoff. "The primary reason we did the rehab project was to increase the flow capacity."
Previously, with the smaller openings, the dam could pass 39 percent of the probable maximum flood. The USACE estimated that 143 lives would be threatened and 29 lost if the dam were to fail. The upgrade allows for 70 percent of the probable maximum flood to pass through, which reduces the estimated threat to life to near zero.
The dam forms the Pine River Reservoir, which connects the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, including Upper and Lower Whitefish, Arrowhead, Bertha, Big Trout, Clamshell, Cross, Daggett, Hen, Island, Little Pine, Loon, Lower Hay, Pig and Rush lakes. The lakes comprise 13,660 acres.
By upgrading the dam, lake levels, which were previously at about 8 feet, were raised to about 12 feet. This allows for more consistent lake levels throughout the year, rather than changing constantly with the seasons, said Nelson. Additionally, it allows for deeper connecting channels, making transportation easier in the area.
"Lakeshore property is very valuable," said Nelson. "We try to operate as consistently as possible."
The 42-acre recreation area at the dam, including campsites and fishing areas, were given a face lift as well. Part of the dam rehab involved raising the embankment, which ran through several of the campsites. In order to save some of those sites, workers built a stone wall through the embankment, which allowed them to keep some of the sites, said Bischoff.
Additionally, handicapped-accessible fishing docks were installed, and trees were planted, both to replace the ones lost during construction and in addition to existing trees in the area.
"Trying to maintain a consistent operation here is very important for the regional draw," said Nelson, who noted that recreation use at the dam has risen in recent years, with between 175,000 and 200,000 visitors a year at the dam. Bischoff said that the campsites are "almost always booked full."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was responsible, with Barr Engineering, of Minneapolis, for the design of the refurbished dam. The contractor chosen for construction was Park Construction Co., Minneapolis. The Pine River Dam project won the Seven Wonders of Engineering award from the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers in 2002.
After the dedication ceremony, which is 10:30 a.m. Saturday, there will be activities planned throughout the day, including tours, displays and discussions on the historical significance of the dam and its impact on the area. The dam is at Crow Wing County Roads 3 and 66 in Crosslake.
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