Area residents hoping to see a local state park rehabilitated heard some bad news this week as state officials reported there are no plans to repair or restore the dam at Lake Hiddenwood Recreation Area.
Thursday, May 17, and Friday, May 18, in 2018 storms traveled across north central South Dakota accompanied by high winds, hail and very heavy rain, as much as 13 inches in McPherson County. In Walworth County, rain in some spots measured more than nine inches, leaving standing water in fields, ditches, and the yards of homes. The heavy rains washed out a dam, which caused Lake Hiddenwood to empty and water rush through the park, emptying into nearby fields. Debris and fish from the park and lake were deposited in the fields and ditches around the park area.
There has been talk about rebuilding the dam and rehabilitating the park, but with that comes a heavy price tag. This week it was announced that request for federal funding from Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) to rebuild and rehab the park have been denied. That means there will be no federal funding to help in rebuilding the dam, roads and camping areas in what once was a state park.
A spokesman for South Dakota’s Department of Recreation said there are no funds for the state to repair the damage at Hiddenwood. According to the original FEMA request, $3 millions would be needed to repair the dam.
South Dakota Department of Game Fish and Parks Area Parks Manager Dan Richards said there is only so much federal funding available and with so many disasters in which federal government is involved, there was heavy competition for federal money. He used the wildfires in California and the flooding in Nebraska as examples. A small park like Hiddenwood, with little revenue generation and no purpose outside of recreational, is far down the priority list for FEMA funding.
That doesn’t mean nothing will be done with Hiddenwood.
Richards said there is a group of area stakeholders, including landowners, local officials and area residents that are working on ideas and solutions to the two major problems with the work at the state park; access and clean up.
“We are kicking around some ideas,” he said. “To be honest, it will likely be several years before we see any progress.”
He said the first hurdle is access. That means either repairing the road that was washed out or gaining access to the park from another area. The later will likely be the solution.
That means working with engineers and surveyors to plot a route before the actual road can be built.
Richards said the state is working with the South Dakota National Guard to possibly work on the road and clean up.
“We are hoping we get a little clean up done this year,” he said. “I am working with (Commander) Michael Shay in Rapid City to see if we can get some help from the local unit.”
Richards is hoping the Guard can help remove the dam and road debris from the park, then plan a larger exercise in 2020. He hopes other units can help with heavy equipment needed in the cleanup effort.
Richards said the cost of the access project will be a hurdle the group must clear before the park can be used again. He said the guard can build the road, but the engineering, surveys and materials are very expensive. Richards said even using gravel rather than asphalt would be a considerable cost. He is hoping to tap into some local help to solve these issues.
Richards said another option would be gain access to the park from the west. He said the road would be longer and the cost higher. That is why it is preferable to come in through the existing road.
After access is gained to the park, the cleanup can begin which means clearing out all of the debris that was carried through the park, to the dam area and out into the creek area.
“Removing the concrete from the old dam is a major obstacle,” he said. “Hopefully we can get the walking bridge back in place and work on getting the walking trails cleaned up.”
With plans for some clean up this year and hopefully a bigger cleanup project for in 2020, Richards said getting the electrical hook ups in the campground tested and repaired will be next hurdle. He said if the dam cannot be replaced, Lake Hiddenwood may not be part of the plan. He said camping and walking trails can help to generate a bit a revenue from the park and breath some life back into it.
“We would like to get the hikers, campers, the weddings back,” he said.
For any of this to happen, there has to be coordination and cooperation between local residents, businesses and governments.
He said when they meet this spring the shareholder group is will discuss the possibility of creating a non-profit group that is necessary to secure grant funding.
Richards said when the area has safe access then the conversation can turn to volunteers helping with cleanup of trails and recreation areas.
Until that time, Hiddenwood will remain closed to the public.