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Blue Mounds dam in question: Minnesota DNR decision expected later this month

LUVERNE -- Nearly a year and a half ago flood waters in Rock County wiped out a portion of a historic dam inside Blue Mounds State Park, draining Lower Mound Lake and leaving a meandering stream in its place.

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This Daily Globe file photo from July 2014 shows the extent of the damage flood waters did to the dam inside Blue Mounds State Park north of Luverne. Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe
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LUVERNE - Nearly a year and a half ago flood waters in Rock County wiped out a portion of a historic dam inside Blue Mounds State Park, draining Lower Mound Lake and leaving a meandering stream in its place.

Since then, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has completed engineering studies, analyzed historic resource issues, identified potential economic and recreational impacts and conducted biological surveys. According to DNR Regional Director Dennis Frederickson, the agency hopes to make a decision later this month on how to proceed with the 1930s-era structure.
“The DNR has not yet made a decision on the future of the dam because we are still in the process of evaluating all of these factors,” Frederickson wrote in a letter emailed Tuesday to the Daily Globe. “There are potential impacts at every level - local, state and federal.”

While acknowledging the importance of the park and the lake to the local community and the region - as well as the historical significance of the dam - Frederickson said much has changed since the structure was built.
“Recreation has changed. The environment has changed,” he wrote. “Three-quarters of a century ago, pond mussels, Topeka shiners and plains topminnows were abundant. Today their numbers are limited. Construction methods that were accepted in the ’30s are not allowed today. Rebuilding the dam by current safety standards may keep it functional, but compromise its historic value.”
Frederickson said the work done thus far confirms the “complexity of the decision in front of us,” but also underscores the need to make a decision.
Jane Lanphere, executive director of the Luverne Area Chamber and member of Luverne Initiatives For Tomorrow (LIFT), said there is a lot of community support to reestablish a lake in the state park.
“We certainly hope that it can be reconstructed and we hope that in the reconstruction process, that somehow they’ll be able to figure out how to leave the water open for swimming,” said Lanphere, adding that there is uncertainty surrounding access for swimming if the dam is rebuilt.
“Blue Mounds State Park is probably our biggest tourism draw in Rock County and we are working to continue to build that,” Lanphere said. “We really feel that these parks that were built over 80 years ago, they really need from the state government a reinvestment at this time. Certainly the structures that are there might need some TLC. It’s probably one of the pervasive issues that we have.”
Local leaders shared their wishes for the dam to be reconstructed this summer, when DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr visited Luverne and Blue Mounds State Park as part of his Prairie Pedal bike ride through southwest Minnesota to see state-owned lands.
“We know there’s a process and there’s a lot of people that have to be involved in the decision, but we stand ready and willing and able to talk to legislators or the commissioner,” Lanphere said.
Once the DNR makes a decision about the dam at Blue Mounds State Park, Frederickson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will weigh in on the plans, and other federal agencies will also have a say.
Meanwhile, Lanphere said Luverne’s Convention and Visitors Bureau is working to develop a Rock River Water Trail for people to canoe and kayak the Rock River from Blue Mounds State Park south to the Iowa state line.
“We’ve branded it; we don’t have official access points,” she said. “Optimistically we could have three access points (next) summer, but that would be really optimistic.”
The goal is to eventually have six access points along the river, but the project will take time.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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