Eons ago Clark Lake had no dam. That begs the question–what would that be like? That topic was examined today (Friday 7/8/16) by John Calvert, a retired civil engineer, who lives at the lake. His experience includes building and repairing dams all over the world. That makes his insights on our dam all the more interesting. According to John, “the lake was likely 2 to 3 feet lower before the dam.” What would that do to the shoreline? “It would make a big difference, and some differences would be greater than others.” John continues “At the dam location itself, the original shoreline was probably 250-feet out into what is now the lake.” You could estimate the original shoreline in front of your place by measuring the depth. “Areas that are 2 to 3 feet deep would give you an idea of where the shore once was.” In some places, you could also detect the shoreline by walking out into the lake. “Firmer lake bed, that might include stones, are an indicator.”
It seems that the history of the dam at Ocean Beach is murky at best. Efforts to reveal its story have led only to a sketchy results. Another Clark Lake resident, John Deming, speculates that the current dam was not the first one but rather a “1940s or ’50s era replacement.” He believes that the boulder-like rocks in front of the dam and some in the creek bed were “large pieces of concrete that were castoffs of an earlier version of the dam.”
Jim Seaman, who grew up at the lake during the 1950’s, remembers a time when the dam was “out–or under repair.” “I don’t know if that was the correct reason, but that’s what was being said at the time.” Jim remembers being able to walk out 100 to 150 feet off the shore at the old school house (now the Township Park) on what had become a “mudflat.” “You didn’t reach water until you got beyond what is today the shallow area.”
Inscribed on the face of the dam is the word “Palmer.” That also was the name of the cement producing company in nearby Cement City. Could it be that they are the ones who poured the concrete for the current iteration of the dam?
A partial rebuild of the dam took place more recently. In fall 2012, observers reported that water was seeking a path around the base of the dam and seeping through. The dam was showing its age and the infrastructure was crumbling. With winter closing in, there would be the repeated action of ice freezing and expanding, and then thawing and contracting. Smaller cracks could easily become larger with a growing cascade of water further eroding the soil around it, widening the path, and finally destroying the dam. Fortunately that dark scenario was not allowed to take place. The Clark Lake Spirit Foundation stepped up and did not let it happen.
The Foundation hired and paid for a contractor to fortify the dam. A solid new concrete section replaced the weakened area. Four-thousand dollars later the problem was resolved. But when it came to making this repair, you might ask “isn’t the dam owned by Jackson County, and if so, shouldn’t they bear that expense?” Governmental units declined. After this became clear, the Clark Lake Spirit Foundation, representing the interests of all of us at the lake, took action to ensure the integrity of this very important structure.
Meanwhile, the photo at the front of this article illustrates the lack of rain. In spite of our 150 springs, rainwater is still necessary to keep the lake level up. Today’s level is about 6 or 7 inches below the typical high water mark. While waves push some water over the dam, during calm, the Palmer insignia stays dry. And no wonder. According to the website usclimatedata.com, Jackson’s average precipitation for June is 3.27 inches. In 2016, there was only .84 inches, and it looks like July is going the same way. Although Jackson experienced a downpour last night, there was only light rain at Clark Lake and a brief shower this evening.