The future of a popular state park in Minnesota is floating downstream thanks to June flooding. Seven inches of rain in twelve hours overnight caused the dam at Blue Mounds State Park to break. Now the man-made lake home to water recreation in Rock County is nearly empty.
What is usually a busy place this time of year, Blue Mounds State Park is as quiet as ever. Closed to visitors, the sizeable campground sits empty. Even the 70-plus Bison that call this patch of prairie home look lonely without nature lovers to check in on them.
Water recreation used to be one of the park's main attractions but a mid-June rain caused the lake's lower dam to break and flooding damaged parts of the park. This fishing pier, once on the lake, is now hundreds of yards away.
"The swing set in the picnic grounds was under water at that point. Just a rush of water and when I managed to get down here I could see the water was going around the main dam and through the spillway and it was gone," Park Manager Chris Ingebretsen said.
What used to be eight feet deep in some places now looks more like a little creek. Ironically in the "Land of 10,000 lakes," there are zero in Rock County. That's why this spot was prime space for anyone from Luverne or surrounding areas in search of water.
"This was a very pleasant place to swim and fish and we were just getting into some of the paddle sport activities here. It's disheartening to see it gone," Ingebretsen.
Ingebretsen is the park manager. He's been on the job for less than a year but already he's seen major changes.
"The park was actually established in 1937 and one of the main purposes for it was to provide water recreation opportunities. That's not going to work until the dam is fixed, if it is fixed," Ingebretsen said.
Ingebretsen says discussions about how to fund repairs haven't begun but crews have been assessing the damage.
Engineers say filling in this hole would cost up to $500,000, replacing the nearly 80-year-old structure would add up to $4 million.
"I think it will be a big loss if we can't replace the dam but at the same time it might give us opportunities to do some stream restoration work and there might be some interesting opportunities to see a different view of water in the park," Ingebretsen said.
Many will be anxiously waiting to see what happens. At its peak in the summer, Blue Mounds State Park's 84 campsites are full on weekends. That means around 400 people are filling the park making it a much busier place than what you see today.
"Camping is a big part of the experience here and that was not impacted at all in the floods. The campground stayed high and dry and is just fine," Ingebretsen said.
While the lake that many come to see is not fine, Ingebretsen says the overall future of Blue Mounds is safe.
"The future of water recreation in the park is certainly up in the air. I don't have any fear that the park will be closing. Water recreation will be closed for sometime and possibly forever," Ingebretsen said.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne will reopen Monday after a monthlong shutdown caused by flood damage.
The campground, interpretive center, climbing area and all trails except the Mound Creek Trail will reopen Monday. The swimming area will remain closed as DNR engineers decide how to address the damaged spillway and dam.