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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Big Stone Lake Dam
Minnesota River Dam
Ortonville, MN

Big Stone Lake Dam

• Location: River Mile 328.2.
• Structure Type: Concrete, Steel, Earthen Dike.
• Structure Width: 120 Feet Main Structure (Estimated).
• River Elevation (Pool): 966 Feet.
• River Elevation (Outflow): 961 Feet.
• Water Fall: 5 Feet
• Date Built: 1937.
The Big Stone Lake Dam was built in 1937 as part of a depression era WPA project to lessen the downstream impact of periodic flooding. The dam features ten concrete pylons. Steel pates are fitted in slots on the sides of these pylons. These slots support and guide the steel plates as they are raised and lowered to control the water flowing out of Big Stone Lake and Whetstone River into the Minnesota River.

Big Stone Lake is just to the north of the dam. It is a long and narrow lake that runs for about 26 miles. To the north of Big Stone Lake is Traverse Lake and Mud Lake, which are also long and narrow lakes that run for about 22 miles. These lakes run though a deep river channel that was carved about 8,000 years ago when a giant glacial lake overflowed and drained, creating the Minnesota River Valley and part of the Mississippi River Valley.

Interestingly, Big Stone Lake drains through the Minnesota River and Mississippi River, delivering water to the Gulf Of Mexico. Traverse Lake drains north through the Red River and delivers water to Hudson Bay. There is a very low mound of earth separating these two lakes at the Traverse Gap, low enough that during high water periods, the water can flow either way.

These lakes are often called the West Coast of Minnesota. The area is far enough out of the way that the traffic is low, yet the roads on the high bluffs overlooking the water is very reminiscent of the Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The photo above is a view of the downriver face of the dam as seen in the spring of 2008. In this photos, the lake water is high, so the dam is left open in an attempt to bring the lake water back down to normal.


Big Stone Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the south end of the dam. The photo above is a view looking across the downriver face of the dam. The photo below is a view of the south end of the dam. Note the public walkway on the upriver side of the structure, which provides access to the far side of the river.

Big Stone Lake Dam
Big Stone Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the downriver face of the dam. The photo above is a profile shot, while the photo below is a view from the southeast corner of the structure. The water level is lower than in the spring photos above.

Big Stone Lake Dam
Big Stone Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the upriver face of the dam. The photo above is a profile shot, while the photo below is a view from the southwest corner of the structure.

Big Stone Lake Dam
Big Stone Lake Dam
These two photos show the water rushing though the open dam gate. A large wave is created at the base of the dam due to the fast moving water. The photo above is looking downriver from the path that crosses the dam. The photo below is a view from the north end of the dam.

Big Stone Lake Dam
Big Stone Lake Dam
These two photos are views of the dike on either side of the Big Stone Lake Dam. The photo above is on the north side of the dam on the Ortonville side of the Minnesota River. The photo below is on the south side of the dam. The vantage point is very close to where the Minnesota and South Dakota state line crosses the dam embankment.

Big Stone Lake Dam
Big Stone Lake Dam
The photo above is a view from early summer of 2010. The water flow is relatively low, so just one gate is open. The water level in the channel is low, leaving the apron in front of the dame exposed for the birds to use as a platform to watch for fish. The photo below is a marker that is placed just downriver of the dam site.

Big Stone Lake Dam

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