Historic District - Norbeck Dam
The Norbeck Dam is located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north of the visitor center on S.D. 87. The story of the Norbeck Dam is marked with irony. Named for U.S. Senator from South Dakota Peter Norbeck who was instrumental in the development of Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, and the scenic highways in the Black Hills, the dam literally never held water. The dam was constructed in 1930 with the purpose of providing a water supply for the game animals in the Wind Cave Game Preserve. The Game Preserve, established in 1912 by the Bureau of Biological Survey, adjoined Wind Cave National Park on the north. The preserve became part of the park in 1935.
The dam is an earthen structure, approximately 300 feet (91 m) long, 34 feet (10.4 m) high and 200 feet (61m) wide at the base. The dam was built across Cold Spring Creek, that flows from the west. Material to build the dam was taken from areas just upstream from the dam site. The earth was tamped to make a more impervious structure.
The dam never held water. Several reasons were offered, including poor design, poor construction, and permeable rock layers beneath the base of the dam. In the years that followed, plans for repairing or abandoning the dam were discussed. In 1988, a concrete box culvert was installed in the base of the dam allowing continuous drainage. This breach negates the integrity of the dam and the dam is no longer of any historical significance. However, the crest of the dam still serves as the base for S.D. 87.
The reservoir behind the dam was to be called Lake Ti-Tan-Ka. Since the dam could not hold water, it was derisively referred to as "Peter's Puddle", after Peter Norbeck. Some people considered the dam critical for providing wildlife with needed water and a place for visitors to view wildlife when the animals congregated there. Others argued against the keeping the dam because it was artificial and the likelihood a reservoir would attract non-native animals. The latter is a much stronger argument and in keeping with the mission and philosophies of the National Park System, such a structure would never be built in a National Park area today.
Did You Know?
Fire is an important factor in protecting the prairie. Historically, fires burned across the prairie every 4 to 7 years. Fires burn the small trees that would otherwise march across the prairie and turn the grasslands to forest.