A celebration 100 years in the making occurred Aug. 4 at the Gull Lake Recreation Area as the district recognized the past century of dam operations at the site, located near Brainerd, Minn.
The last of the six Headwaters dams placed into operation, the site is unique in the fact that it was the only location to be initially constructed out of concrete. The other dams were all built with timbers before the Corps converted each of them to concrete during later modifications.
When the Gull Lake Dam was completed in 1912, it raised the reservoir elevation by 5 feet, which helped create the Gull Lake Chain of Lakes. The dam, as well as others in the region, allowed for transportation and commerce throughout the Mississippi River Headwaters region. The reservoir system also served to supply the navigation industry with a consistent water supply during the summer months from St. Paul, Minn., to Prairie du Chien, Wis.
Following the completion of the locks and dams in the 1930s, the Headwaters dams were no longer used as a water source. Since then, the lakes have provided flood relief, water supply and recreational opportunities. “The reservoirs are unique in the fact that they can add water or hold back water during times of flooding,” said Kendall Bergmann, deputy district commander.
Reducing flood risks is not the only economic benefit the dam provides. “The Gull Lake Recreation Site averages about 500,000 visitors a year,” said Bergmann. “That’s about 100,000 families and with that; [the dam] adds money for the local economy to support the lake and the other businesses. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”
In addition to the economic value that the Gull Lake Dam provides to the local economy, the dam also provides nearly 40 camp sites and many other recreation facilities. Bergmann said, “Our park rangers and volunteers take pride in keeping our recreation sites clean, up to date, and [making them] a good family place for recreation, for learning and for other events.”
Following the ceremony, the park rangers hosted a medallion hunt for kids. The kids had to visit every part of the park in order to complete the challenge and receive their souvenir. The first person to complete the challenge earned a commemorative coin from Bergmann. In addition to the scavenger hunt, historians were on hand to discuss what the region was like prior to the dam being built.