Blue Mounds State Park reopens
LUVERNE — One month after torrential rains flooded Mound Creek and compromised a 1930s-era dam that practically emptied the man-made recreational lake inside Blue Mounds State Park, the park reopened Monday to visitors.
They arrived sporadically after the 10 a.m. opening, walking along the trails to survey damage just beyond fences meant to keep onlookers safe from shoreline drop-offs and gullies created by high water levels and fast-moving currents.
Alex Watson, the southern regional naturalist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Trails, said the June flood will be a turning point in the state park’s history.
The park was closed June 14 after Mound Creek rose so high it topped the two-lane road in several areas along the west entrance to Blue Mounds. Within the next two days, the high waters washed in sediment from farmers’ fields and put extreme pressure on the dam on Lower Mound Lake.
Eventually, water undercut the earthen wing on one side of the dam, resulting in the near-emptying of the 20-acre basin.
On Monday, the area that was once a recreational lake used for swimming and fishing appeared to be nothing more than a shallow stream. DNR officials say it may remain that way for several years.
The good news — an initial assessment of the concrete dam shows it may be sound, although Watson cautioned more engineering work is needed.
For now, Watson said the new state of the lake bed should prove a prime area for bird watchers in the coming weeks with the migration of the shorebird population.
While the pristine lake may be gone, he said, there are still plenty of reasons to visit Blue Mounds State Park, and bird watching is just one of them. Prairie flowers are also in bloom inside the park, and all of the trails are open with the exception of the loop that went over the dam on Lower Mound Lake. The nationally recognized bison herd inside Blue Mounds State Park can also be viewed.
The flooding through Blue Mounds State Park, while wiping out the lake, can be credited with the discovery of a nearly 200-foot-long stone structure not far from the DNR’s park offices.
“We’re not sure what this structure means for historic preservation,” Watson said. “Is this now a feature we should preserve and protect?”
At the very least, some culvert work will be required in the vicinity of the discovery.
Watson said Mound Creek will continue to respond quickly to rain events in the future, as modern tiling practices produce a “faster rise” in water levels in creeks across southern Minnesota.
“Nature will work to quickly vegetate the sandy, silty bank,” he added.
Now that the park has reopened and reservations may be made for the campground, Watson reminds visitors that the water system inside the park is still deemed unusable after E. coli bacteria was found in late May.
Individuals and families who plan to visit the park are asked to bring in their own water for consumption and showering.
“We are looking into other … options for bringing water in,” Watson said. “It’s a modern challenge.”
The Blue Mounds State Park was originally established as Mound Spring Recreation Preserve in 1934 due to the lack of a natural lake in Rock County.
“There was a need for a lake to provide water recreation for residents,” Watson said, adding that through lobbying efforts, Mound Creek was chosen to be the site for development of the lakes.
In 1937, a group of 50 men in the Works Progress Administration began quarrying stone to create the reservoirs. The initial intent was to create a 22-foot-deep lake, but it was soon realized that wouldn’t be possible. Once it was completed, the average depth was 7- to 8-feet. Shortly after the work was done, Mound Creek State Park was established at a mere 200 acres in size — considerably smaller than the current 1,200-plus acre Blue Mounds State Park.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.