Facts are gradually emerging that offer enlightenment about the origin and history of Clark Lake’s dam at Ocean Beach. This one is a surprise.
Ted Ligibel carefully researched and wrote the history of Clark Lake, published in Clark Lake, Images of a Michigan Tradition. While combing through his files recently, he found a newspaper article that documents a significant marker in what we know about the dam. The article, appearing in the Cit Pat on February 7, 1954, told the story of the failure of the dam’s spillway. This dire warning came from County Road Commissioner Leslie Reed– “If prompt action was not taken this water that was undercutting the dam would soon have torn away larger and larger openings, finally losing all semblance of control.” Reed told the paper the lake could have been lowered by “nearly seven feet.” He explained “that due to the nearly 7 feet of drop between a point 500 feet west of the dam into the lake and point 500 east of the dam (upstream), it could mean a loss of that much water from the lake.”
“Emergency crews and equipment were sent to the dam…”. The paper described the repair project. “After initial sandbagging to protect the in rushing water from crumbling first reinforcements, interlocking sheets of heavy steel were driven 10 to 12 feet below the water line.” At the time of the writing, the work apparently had not been finished. “Concrete will be poured between this heavy wall of steel and the original dam to prevent any further danger of undercutting.”
What new information does this article reveal?
- There was a major infrastructure threat in 1954 and subsequent repair took place on an emergency basis by the then County Road Commission.
- The 1954 estimate of potential lake level loss was far greater (7 feet) than the current day estimates in case of catastrophic failure.
In an effort to establish more of the dam’s history, Flip Reynolds reached out to Gloria Steinem as her family owned land in that area at one time. He asked her what she knew about the dam. “During the time that my parents, Ruth and Leo Steinem, owned 40 acres or so of lakefront property there, I remember that the dam was said to be the only one in the state of Michigan that was on private property.” In her email to Flip, she adds “our family was also responsible for its repair as well as for dredging the creek on the other side of Ocean Beach Road.” No evidence has emerged that refutes the dam is not on private property.
In 2012, the north shoulder of the dam was threatened. The Clark Lake Spirit Foundation arranged and paid for its repair through donations. A similar vulnerability exists today on the south shoulder. The Foundation’s Dam Strong Fund has raised enough money to repair that weakness. It’s expected that repair work will start this month.
In a video on this website, contractor Bill Bendele described the failings of the south shoulder of the dam. In that same video he described the spillway as being sound. That’s the area worked on in 1954.
Bill Leutz has also been active in researching history of the dam. In a future article, learn when the first dam was likely constructed and how he came to that conclusion. Also find out more about the mysterious inscription “Palmer” found on the spillway of the dam.
Click here to read about a 1934 rebuild of the dam. Below a view of the dam circa 1943.