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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Marsh Lake Dam
Minnesota River Dam
Appleton, MN

Marsh Lake Dam

• Location: River Mile 301.7.
• Structure Type: Earthen Fill w/Concrete Main Structure.
• Structure Width: 11,800 Feet Overall, Single 112 Foot Gate.
• River Elevation (Pool): 938 Feet.
• River Elevation (Outflow): 931 Feet.
• Water Fall: 7 Feet.
• Date Built: 1936 To 1939, Modified Between 1941 And 1951.
The Marsh Lake Dam was built in the 1930s as one of three flood control projects on the Minnesota River. It was built by the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, one of several 3-letter agencies created during the great depression to put people to work. The US Army Corps of Engineers took over the dam once it was completed. Ironically, during periods of high water, the lake behind the Lac Qui Parle dam backs up and floods the Marsh Lake Dam, so it effectively serves no significant flood control management according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The dam is 19 feet tall, but is designed with a 7 foot water fall. Much of the 11,800 foot length is an earthen embankment. The main structure of the dam has a single 112 foot wide gate that is fixed in position to maintain Marsh Lake at the 938 foot elevation. An overflow spillway sits next to the main gate. The overflow is little more than a cut in the dam that is paved with concrete.

Some maps show a river crossing over the dam. In fact, several topographical maps call this 113th Avenue. It is remotely possible that cars could cross the dam during low water when the overflow was dry and before the main gate was built. A local resident stated that the dam was blocked off for as long as he could remember.

Marsh Lake is a major stopping place for Canadian Geese, with as many as 150,000 birds passing through per day. The dam is the site of one of only two nesting colonies of White Pelicans in the state. These huge birds can have wingspans of nearly 10 feet.

The photo above is a close-up view of the dam main structure. The colony of White Pelicans can be seen at the left. The birds are fishing for fish that go over the dam and are dazed as a result of the sudden turbulence. The photo below is a view of the dam from the far southwest end of the structure. One can see the gate that blocks vehicles from traveling on the dam.

Marsh Lake Dam
Marsh Lake Dam
These two photos are two more views of the dam from the southwest end of the structure. The photo above shows that the vehicle path is still well defined. I suspect that this is from US Army Corps of Engineers vehicles inspecting the dam. The photo below shows the US Geological Survey gauge station. It measures and records the water level behind the dam.

Marsh Lake Dam
Marsh Lake Dam
The photo above is a close-up view of the main dam gate. The photo below is a close-up view of the overflow spillway. The White Pelicans can again be seen in this photo.

Marsh Lake Dam
Marsh Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the entire main structure of the dam. The photo above is a view from downstream, while the photo below is a view from the base of the dam.

Marsh Lake Dam
Marsh Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the top of the dam. The photo above is looking southwest. The dam extends about a half-mile before it meets the base of the bluffs along the edge of the river valley. The photo below is looking northeast. The road from the day use area at the base of the dam follows the top of the dam for a mile and a half.

Marsh Lake Dam

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