Dam repairs at Trail of Tears' Lake Boutin to be finished by July

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Missouri Department of Natural Resources employees work on the Lake Boutin dam in Trail of Tears State Park Tuesday, May 15. The swimming beach at the lake is closed due to the low water levels required by the construction work. (ADAM VOGLER)

The "swim-at-your-own risk" admonition at Lake Boutin's swimming beach should come to an end this summer.

More than four years after torrential rains damaged a dam that supports the lake at Trail of Tears State Park, a $250,000 state project to rebuild it is slated to be completed in July, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Department crews have been working since late last year to reconstruct the dam and an adjacent emergency spillway and the work is set to wrap up by the July 4 weekend but it could take until the end of the month, said spokeswoman Renee Bungart. Other improvements to the lake, which was originally completed in 1961, include a reconstructed beach area and new restroom facilities, she said.

"There were problems with the dam," Bungart said. "The dam was failing, and it had to be reconstructed. There was just too much water pressure on the dam. So we're going to keep the lake at a lower level and put less stress on it. But this just doesn't happen overnight."

The swimming beach was closed for about three years after more than 12 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period in March 2008, which caused the dam to erode. A sharp drop-off was also created in the area of the beach.

Denise Dowling, natural resources manager at the park, said the rain caused at least 10 landslides. Engineers became concerned about the lake's water level so they had nine feet of water drained to keep pressure off the dam. The draining eliminated the swimming area and made the beach's slope unsafe for swimmers. The closure was announced in July 2008, and it didn't open again until last July.

"We've been trying to recover from that ever since," Dowling said.

The beach was renovated, and additions were made that make it handicapped-accessible, including a ramp from the parking lot to the water. New restrooms were built, which are large enough to change in and are also accessible to the handicapped. New sand was added, the slope was fixed on the beach, and a picnic area with tables was installed.

Last summer, the lake was what the department considers a category one "designated to swim lake," which does not caution visitors to swim at their own risk. But after the work on the nearby dam began, which is also being lowered, it was downgraded to a category two, Dowling said. The beach project has caused the category change because the water is too low for the park to put out a swimming perimeter. Once the dam project is done, the lake will return to a category one after the water is allowed to rise.

The state crews are also constructing a spillway, Bungart said, which will be there in case of emergency overflow. Once the spillway work is complete, the water in the lake will be allowed to rise to about 10 feet lower than where it stood in years past.

"But it will take some rain," Bungart said. "Hopefully everything will be finished in July. It depends on Mother Nature."

The project is being designed and constructed for $250,000 by crews from the department, Bungart said. Doing the work in-house is about $400,000 cheaper than if they had contracted it out, she said.

The number of swimmers was down last year, Dowling said, but she doesn't think it's because the water was lower. She thinks most people didn't know it was open.

"They should come out and enjoy the park," she said. "We've done a lot of improvements the last couple of years."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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429 Moccasin Springs, Jackson, MO

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