US Army Corps of Engineers
St. Paul District Website

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***Campsites at Sandy Lake are closed for the 2021 recreation season due to dam construction.*** News release

The recreation area will remain accessible via the south entrance for day use. The north entrance will be closed until construction is completed.   

The following remain open for day use until 10 p.m. daily:

  • Public Restrooms
  • Public beach
  • Boat launch onto Big Sandy Lake and the Sandy River
  • Shoreline and dock fishing (some areas may be clsoed for safety)
  • Beach playground and picnic facilities 

Sandy Lake construction updates

The purpose of this page is to provide updates for the ongoing construction at Big Sandy Lake. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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A. The Sandy Lake Dam rehabilitation project consists of repairs and improvements that are needed to address immediate dam safety concerns and ensure continued safe operation of the dam into the future. The dam is being rehabilitated, not rebuilt. The concrete structure is over 100 years old and is showing signs of deterioration. The rehabilitation is scheduled to take place in the fall and winter months of 2020-2022.

A. The study of fish passage at Sandy Lake Dam is complex and requires significant research and planning. Although a fish passage is not incorporated in the dam rehabilitation design, there is still potential to install a fish passage in the future if shown to be justified and constructable. A congressional action de-authorizing the lock chamber for navigation would enhance these efforts. The Corps of Engineers proposed language to be incorporated to the 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA 2018), which would result in the lock being de-authorized for navigation. The proposal was denied for WRDA 2018, but will continue to be available to incorporate in WRDA 2020. The Minnesota DNR will be reaching out to appropriate elected officials in order to advocate for lock de-authorization. Historically, a fish ladder existed on the dam structure, but was ineffective in design for native fish species – it was too steep and turbulent. The fish ladder was removed during a previous dam rehabilitation in the 1950s.

A. Water levels on the reservoir will continue to be managed at normal elevations throughout the construction period. Rehabilitation work is occurring in two phases, which will allow for water flow capacities to be maintained throughout the repair process. The summer operating range for Big Sandy Lake Reservoir is a six-inch elevation range between elevations 1216.06 to 1216.56 (NGVD29), with the middle this range being the target elevation - 1216.31 (NGVD29). Water level information can be found online at    

A. The Big Sandy Lake fish movement study is not related to the Sandy Lake Dam rehabilitation project. The Corps of Engineers is partnering with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to conduct a five-year fish movement study looking at how fish live and move within the Big Sandy Lake watershed. The study will help determine future actions that will be beneficial to native fish regarding dam operation and watershed management.

Historic photos

Sandy Lake Recreation Area will remain accessible via the south entrance for day use. The north entrance will be closed until construction is completed.
Sandy Lake Dam dive inspection phase 1
Construction is ongoing at Big Sandy Lake Dam. A Corps contractor will rehab the dam to ensure it continues to perform as designed.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, will close its campsites at Sandy Lake Recreation Area near McGregor, Minnesota, through the 2021 recreation season due to construction activities related to the Sandy Lake Dam rehabilitation.

Sandy Lake Dam Draft Rehabilitation Project

Pile driving from downstream

Pile driving from downstream at Big Sandy Lake Dam, March 3, 2021

Construction at Big Sandy Lake Dam

A boat ramp on a lake and a sandy beach

The recreation area is accessible via the south entrance for day use. The north entrance will be closed until construction is completed (photo of the south boat ramp onto Big Sandy Lake, view from the beach). 


Coffeer dam being installed at a dam

Upstream coffer dam being installed for phase 1 (lock chamber) March 12, 2021

A view of a dam with construction equipment

Construction at Big Sandy Lake Dam March 20, 2021

Construction at Big Sandy Lake Dam, March 2, 2021

Construction at Big Sandy Lake Dam, March 2, 2021

Big Sandy Lake Dam pre-rehab

Sandy Lake Dam pre-rehab

Big Sandy Lake Dam pre-rehab, Jan. 11, 2021

Sandy Lake recreation area information

Other camping opportunities

Camping will be available at the five other US Army Corps of Engineers headwaters dams and recreation areas during the 2021 season: Leech Lake, Winnibigoshish, Pokegama, Cross Lake and Gull Lake.  

Visit to make reservations!

Final Environmental Assessment