A major environmental undertaking is now complete near Crosslake, as a project designed to revamp a rock dam between the Pine River and Big Pine Lake was completed in April.

“The purpose of it is to enhance fish populations and aquatic populations,” said Beth Hippert, project facilitator for Crow Wing Soil and Water. “When any parts of the ecosystem are absent or missing - whether it's fish that feed on smaller fish or insects - that is going to affect the fish population. Chemical changes to the stream can affect populations and more sediment increases temperatures.

“This project will enhance the fish populations and aquatic habitat in the Pine River and Big Pine Lake, and probably upstream too, because it is replacing a 50-year-old rock dam.

The original rock dam was installed in 1970. Since that time, natural wear has greatly affected the dam’s integrity. The new project reconnects more than 12 miles of upstream aquatic corridors.

“The old dam was riddled with problems, and as it got older and older, those problems got worse,” Hippert said. “That was just one long rock dam that spanned from the west to the east - I believe it was 140 to 160 feet long. Today, that is about 250 feet long because they lost that much land over the years due to breaches on the east side of the dam.”

Five rock weirs now replace the old rock dam, which allows water to flow toward the banks of the tributary and create deeper areas in an effort to reduce erosion.

“People have built on this lake, so you can't just remove the dam and say ‘let it heal itself.’ That won't work. There is a process called natural stream channel design, which copies what a healthy, natural stream looks like and uses that to maintain a stable stream and maintain water levels.”

The project was officially completed on Tuesday, April 7, nearly seven years after initial project studies began.

The project was aided by a $1.2 million grant from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature and recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to restore, protect, and enhance Minnesota's wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife. Hippert credited area legislators - particularly Sen. Carrie Ruud - for bringing the issue to the attention of those who could help.

“Senator Carrie Ruud was very supportive of this,” she said. “She had written some legislation to allow us to get more money to finish this project because it was a good project and it needed to get done. It didn’t pass, but it was still important and raised awareness of the project and its importance.”

Now that the project is complete, Hippert encourages lake goers to check it out for themselves.

“It is beautiful,” Hippert said. “You really have to go see it to appreciate it, but the sights and sound of it is just beautiful, and it is open now for everyone to enjoy.”