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Exploring the future of Crane Lake
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Exploring the future of Crane Lake

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The USDA Forest Service is reaching out to the community to decide what should happen to the 100-acre Crane Lake which sits in the southwest part of the Fredericktown Unit of Mark Twain National Forest.

A Crane Lake Community Forum will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. July 12 at Thee Abbey Kitchen in Arcadia.

District Ranger Becky Ewing said the dam at Crane Lake was never designed to pass 100 percent of a maximum flood event which is a requirement for all federally managed dams.

"Follow-up inspections showed the dam has structural, geotechnical and hydraulic issues, and further, does not meet seismic design standards for potential earthquakes," Ewing said. "The partial drawdown will continue because the water control structure was damaged by large woody debris during the December 2015 flood. Lake levels continue to fluctuate after storms because debris floats in and clogs the structure. At most, water levels have dropped to 8 feet below normal pool during dry periods."

Ewing said Crane Lake was constructed in the 1950s by a private landowner and then was later acquired by the Forest Service in the early 1970s.

"The Forest Service performed significant repairs on the dam around 1990, mostly to seal cracks in the concrete," Ewing said. "Concrete doesn't last forever and some of the concrete in the spillways is reaching 60-plus years old."

Ewing said Forest Supervisor Sherri Schwenke will ultimately decide what repairs will be made to the lake but first Schwenke wanted to hear from people who enjoy and appreciate Crane Lake and its surrounding national forest land.

"She (Schwenke) heard participants at the 2017 listening post and reviewed comments from the 2015-2016 open houses hosted by Mark Twain National Forest, but she wants to solidify her understanding about what you have enjoyed about Crane Lake in the past, what activities have been most enjoyable to you and what you want Crane Lake to be like in the future," Ewing said. "To gather this information for Supervisor Schwenke I have been fortunate to work with three local residents DeNae Gitonga, the community development specialist with the University of Missouri Extension; Bill Bennett, a former educator and current director of the River Valley Region Association; and Don Firebaugh, an avid angler and outdoorsman and Madison County Clerk."

Ewing said during May and June the four have attended meetings of various grounds such as the chambers of commerce, nature clubs and tourism groups in the area and have also reached out to people who have participated in previous open houses and listening posts.

One of the questions asked to the groups was "what value do you think it will add to the lives of the citizens?"

"The greatest benefit is the health benefits a lake can have for people, specifically stress relief," Ewing said. "What our local residents and recreationists noted actually mirrored what scientists have found when studying how water alters people. Having a unique lake near the communities of Fredericktown, Ironton, Arcadia and Pilot Knob can only be a benefit to residents, but also to business that may cater to visitors who come to explore the lake."

Gitonga said she has no personal tie to Crane Lake but has a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Studies and a Master's Degree in Natural Resources, adding that she is very passionate about natural spaces that welcome human interaction.

"I have lived close to Lake Superior, Wisconsin River, Lake Monona and Lake Mendota for accumulative of 10 years," Gitonga said. "There is something very healing about connecting to a body of water and Crane Lake is a perfect example of a rural asset for peaceful interactions with nature."

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Ewing said some responses have been of fond memories of fishing, boating and picnicking at Crane Lake and the serenity and feeling of solitude they felt when they were there. 

"As we asked about their fondest memories, the act of remembering has triggered various responses, from joy to a bittersweet feeling, especially if the person came to Crane Lake with a parent of grandparent who is no longer with us," Ewing said. "My favorite memory of Crane Lake is from my first summer here in 2013. I went out to the lake with our wildlife biologist and the MDC fisheries biologist. We slowly motored around the lake to look at the native aquatic plantings that the Forest Service and MDC had worked on for a period of years."

Ewing said it was July and everything along the shoreline was in bloom.

"I worked as a fisheries biologist before taking this district ranger position and I can honestly say I have never seen anything so beautiful, especially with the serenity of at the lake," Ewing said. "I knew immediately we have something special to treasure."

Ewing said soon after that trip was when she learned of the issues with the dam and knew it would be a long road ahead to make the needed repairs.

"The engineering studies have been completed," Ewing said. "The hydraulic and hydrologic analysis determined how much of a probable maximum flood could be passed by the current dam, and then, what options could be employed to bring the dam into compliance with federal dam regulations."

Ewing said options for modifications to the dam include, raising the earthen embankment, widening the spillways and/or lowering the spillway walls. 

"No matter what modifications and repairs are planned, they must be designed for the maximum credible earthquake," Ewing said. "Structural deficiencies with the concrete in the spillway chutes and walls must be designed with earthquakes in mind, which is of importance because of Crane Lake's proximity to the New Madrid fault."

Ewing said the funding is not in place at this time but the Forest Service is launching its environmental planning process now, which will disclose any alternatives for repairing the dam, along with information regarding to cost analysis and effects to the wildlife, endangered species, archaeological resources and other resources.

"This work involved much public involvement and can take more than a year to complete," Ewing said. "When the forest supervisor reviews the information and makes a decision on how to address the deficiencies with the dam, an engineering firm will need to design the work so it can go to contract. It is not uncommon for a big project like this to take several years for planning, design and constructions."

Ewing said they will continue to ask questions and share analysis information throughout the process and encourage citizens to get involved.

"As I have talked with people the last couple months, I have found citizens who are interested in forming a 'Friends of Crane Lake' group," Ewing said. "Right now these individuals are looking into how to do this, but the benefit is that a citizens group can help the Forest Service with long-term maintenance of recreation facilities that people may want to have at Crane Lake in the future, such as a restroom or picnic tables."

More information will be shared at the Crane Lake Community Forum. 

"We will summarize what was heard at the focused meetings and we will validate this information with the community forum participants," Ewing said. "Everyone at the forum will work together to explore some of the findings in even more detail. We will also talk about the Forest Service's environmental planning process that is now underway and how it will inform Supervisor Schwenke's decision."

Questions can be sent to comments-eastern-mark-twain-potosi@fs.fed.us or by calling the Potosi Ranger Station at 573-438-5427.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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