HELENA — Park Lake, about 25 miles southwest of Helena, is a very popular recreation spot. The area is about to look a lot different this fall, but it’s for a good reason - a "dam" good reason, actually.
The earthen dam at Park Lake needs repairs. During this year's inspection, increased seepage was noticed. All dams have a certain level of seepage, but when things worsen it's something engineers like to address sooner than later so that catastrophic failure doesn't occur.
The U.S. Forest Service manages the area and say the issues are not an emergency right now by any means, but a good sign that it’s time to do a little work on the piece of Montana history.
“This dam goes back to the late 1800’s and was built by Chinese immigrants that contributed largely to Helena’s success," explained Chiara Cipriano, Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest spokesperson. "Placer mining was a big part of how Helena acquired its wealth, and the damming basically allowed a sustainable water source for that mining activity.”
(Video: Park Lake from the air)
To repair the dam, the water level of Park Lake must be dropped first to ease the stress on the structure. But doing this means the potential stress on the ecosystem, specifically a species of fish. USFS is working to mitigate that fishery stress as much as possible with the assistance of state partners.
“A plan is being developed right now to bring down water levels, you know whether it’s pumped and dispersed, we’re working closely with Fish, Wildlife and Parks to figure out a plan that will mitigate impacts on arctic grayling, which are a really important fish species that are breed here and distributed to different restoration projects in the state,” Cipriano said.
The timeline for the entire project is not set in stone just yet, but is set to start this fall.
“So right now we’re going to be closing the gates for the public on September 7th, September 8th we’re anticipating a formal closure to go into effect," Cipriano added. "That way when heavy machinery is in here and the water levels are being brought down the workers will have space to do that.”
The full repairs to the dam and area are set to take a few years to complete. USFS says the impacts to the campground and picnic area will be shared as the design and logistics of the project are finalized.
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