On August 9, the park closed Front Lake bridge due to severe bank erosion in the historic dam. Front Lake bridge was built on the spillway portion of this dam.
The dam, bridge, and spillway were inspected in Sept. 2022. The earthen dam on the left side of the bridge is eroding and unstable. That is why the bridge is closed and blocked off. Do not go into these closed areas.
What happened to the lake/dam? Does the park inspect the dam? How did this happen?
Front Lake dam was built in the 1850's. It includes a stone spillway (wall the water flows over, to keep the lake level) and earthen banks on the left and right sides of the spillway.
The earthen bank on the left (“park”) side has a history of water seepage and repairs because it was built on sand, not bedrock. The right (“parking lot”) side and the stone spillway were built on bedrock and have not had issues.
The dam is inspected regularly. Some seepage is expected and for years the amount of seepage was deemed within acceptable limits. However, over time, water had been undercutting the left side. The earthen dam breached in August 2022.
Corrugated metal pipes, installed in the 1980’s and used to convey water from the lakebed through the dam, contributed to extra seepage as the pipes rusted and decayed. CMPs were once commonly used for dam repairs. They are no longer used due to issues created in dams like Front Lake’s.
How will the park fix the dam?
In general, repairs will reinforce washed out areas on the left (park side) of the earthen dam, replace the rusted corrugated metal pipe, slow down water seepage, and filter out sediment. Exact steps will be determined by engineers during the design portion of repairs. Design is the first step. Once the dam is fixed, a more robust inspection and monitoring process will be implemented to catch small problems early, before they become catastrophic failures.
When will the park fix the dam?
In spring 2023, the park received funding for the design portion of repairs. Design is the first step.
In summer 2023, engineers took measurements, extracted rock and soil samples, and surveyed the work area. This information will inform repairs. Design work will be completed by early 2024. Repairs are tentatively planned for mid to late 2024.
Why were corrugated metal pipes used to convey water?
Corrugated metal pipes were the industry standard for dams in the 1980’s. They are no longer used due to issues created in dams like Front Lake’s.
Has Front Lake ever been drained before?
The lake has been drained in the past by previous owners, in order to do repairs. The NPS drained front Lake in the 1970’s, to repair the dam, and again in 2010 when the gate valve was replaced.
When was Front Lake dam built? What was it made of?
Front Lake dam was built in the 1850’s. It includes a stone spillway (wall the water flows over, to keep the lake level) and earthen banks on the left and right sides of the spillway. Front Lake bridge is built upon the stone spillway.
When was Front Lake bridge built?
Since Front Lake was dammed in the 1850’s there has been some type of bridge on top of the spillway. The NPS has rebuilt the Front Lake bridge several times since the park was established in 1968. The current bridge was extensively repaired in December 2021.
Where does the pedestrian detour go?
The detour goes on the unpaved .4 mile forest tail around Front Lake. Visitors then walk 1/3 mile up a steeply graded hill to the Sandburg Home and farm.
Can I walk through the lakebed to access the park?
No. The lakebed is unstable. Do not walk through the lakebed.
I CAN’T WALK UP THAT STEEP HILL.
HOW CAN I VISIT THE PARK?
Please check the Plan Your Visit page for current conditions regarding parking and access options.
Please call 828-707-8125 when you arrive at the park. Limited options may be available.
Hikers' Lot: Visitors may drive to the 24-space gravel hikers’ parking lot located 0.5 mile from the main parking lot on Little River Road and then walk .4 mile up a slight slope to access park buildings, restrooms, and hiking trails.
What will happen to the fish in Front Lake? Can you move them?
The park has been working with an aquatic ecologist since August due to concerns over the aquatic life. Most aquatic life will either go dormant or swim up or downstream to other bodies of water. Some will become food for other wildlife. Others, unfortunately, will die due to poor oxygen levels. The park had planned to install an aerator to help with oxygen levels, but the lake drained too quickly for an aerator to be feasible. Moving the fish isn't an option, as doing so could spread disease to other bodies of water.
What fish are in the lake(s)? Any threatened or endangered species?
Some common species are blue gill and grass carp. There are no threatened or endangered species in any lake in the park.