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Highways, Byways, And Bridge Photography
Fond du Lac Dam
Saint Louis River Hydroelectric Project
Duluth, MN

Fond du Lac Dam

• Structure ID: NDI: MN00603
• Location: River Mile 21.3
• Structure Type: Concrete Arch w/Earthen Dam
• Structure Width: 581 Foot Control Structure, 600 Foot Embankment
• River Elevation (Pool): 680 Feet
• River Elevation (Outflow): 602 Feet
• Water Fall: 78 Feet
• Hydro Power: 12-Megawatts
• Date Built: 1924
The Fond du Lac Dam is the first hydro project on the Saint Louis River when heading up river from Duluth. It is contained within the borders of the Jay Cooke State Park. In this region, the Saint Louis River drops 577 feet from an elevation of 1,179 feet in Cloquet down to the lake level of 602 feet. The Fond du Lac Dam is the final 78 feet of that 577 foot drop.

Water power was first harnessed on the Saint Louis River in 1899 when a dam was built near the Potlatch Mill in Cloquet. As the region developed, it was recognized that there was significant power generating potential of the Saint Louis River cascade between Cloquet and Lake Superior. The large Thomson Hydro Project came online in 1907. There still potential for hydro power on either side of the Thomson Hydro Project, as well as another potential dam site in Cloquet. These three projects were developed in the 1920s.

The Fond du Lac Dam was built at the site of a waterfall on the Saint Louis River near the rivers outlet into Saint Louis Bay. The water fall dropped around 50 feet, but there was actually 78 feet of height available between the 602 foot elevation of Lake Superior and the 680 foot elevation of the outlet of the Thomson power plant. The dam was made high enough to take full advantage of this difference in elevation, backing its pool up to the highest level possible at the outflow of the Thomson Hydro Project.

The Fond du Lac Dam is owned by Allete Inc, a spin-off of Minnesota Power. The dam generates 12 megawatts of power. A large volume of water goes over the spillway bypassing the power house. As a result, there are discussions about adding more generators and increasing the power output by 10 megawatts.

There is no easy public access to this impressively large dam. The access road to the dam is posted for no trespassing, and the facilities near the power house are on private property. The back side of the dam and the pool is visible from highway MN-210 as one drives through Jay Cooke State Park. There is canoe access from a landing at the Grand Portage trailhead, though it is best to stay well clear of the dam. The remaining option is a 3/4 mile hike from highway MN-23 down a haul road through Jay Cooke State Park, which leads to a clearing just below the dam on the west shore of the Saint Louis River. The hike in is well worth the effort in order to see this structure. In winter, the dam often creates very large ice sculptures from the spray coming off of the spillway. The spring runoff can also create impressive water displays.

A recent project connected with the dam is an attempt to restore habitat for the Lake Superior Sturgeon. These fish are large, often reaching 100 pounds or more. Destruction of habitat and environmental issues lead to their decline. The fish like to spawn in shallow pools, such as those that once existed on the Saint Louis River before the Fond du Lac Dam was built. Since the dam is in the way, the best option that remained was to attempt to build habitat in the area in front of the dam. Truckloads of large rocks were brought in during the early months of 2009, and those rocks were placed in the river channel that summer to create a number of pools. It is hoped that the fish will again find this location and help bring back their population.

The photo above is looking north towards the downstream face of the Fond du Lac Dam as seen after walking out into the rocks in the middle of the river channel. There is a nice reflection of the dam in the pool on the left side of the photo. The image below is a clip from Google Earth. The arch dam structure is in the center of the photo. The earthen dike is to the left of the dam. An intake structure is at the right side of the dam, with the power plant located at the right edge of the image. The river is divided into two channels below the dam, which merge about a half mile downstream.


Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is the first view of the dam structure when traveling towards the dam on the state park trail leading in from highway MN-23. There is a small clearing on the west side of the river allowing for some great vantage spots to photograph this impressively large dam. The photo below is a view from near the west end of the dam.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
These two photos are close views of the water coming down the spillway towards the west end of the dam. The concrete apron at the base of the dam is about eight feet high, with the water falling 70 feet from the gate at the top of the dam. A rainbow is visible in the photo above. The spray results in some very vividly green plants just to the left of the structure.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is the active spillways at the east end of the concrete dam structure. The photo below is the far east end of the dam, which is mostly hidden by trees. The power plant intake structure is located behind these trees.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is looking east across the river channel. There is a hill on the far side of the river, with a second river channel behind the hill carrying the outflow from the power plant. The rocks in the river channel may appear to be natural, but they are not. Rather, they were trucked in during the winter of 2008 and 2009, and placed in the water during the summer of 2009 to provide a spawning area for the Lake Superior Sturgeon. The photo below is a close view of the top rim of the dam including the dam gates.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is looking down the face of the dam from the embankment at the west end of the concrete structure. The photo below is a closer view that is attempting to give a good view of the apron at the base of the dam. Despite all the water coming over the dam, it looks like there is very little flow across the apron.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is the west end of the concrete structure of the dam. The dam transitions to an earthen embankment at this point. The photo below is looking west along this embankment. The river makes an oxbow curve behind the dam, wrapping back behind the end of this embankment.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
The photo above is looking towards the dam structure from the embankment at the west end of the dam. The photo below is a view of the upstream side of the dam. The intake structure is on the far end of the dam, but is not visible due to the dam arch blocking the view.

Fond du Lac Dam
Fond du Lac Dam
These two photos are views looking south towards the upstream side of the Fond du Lac Dam. The vantage point is an overlook along highway MN-23 located within Jay Cooke State Park. The photo above is an overview shot that shows the earthen embankment at the west end of the dam, while the photo below is a closer view of the control structure.

Fond du Lac Dam

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