“There it went” signaled Dale Gunter, Chief Engineer with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, as the control gate of the former Lake Keith had indeed been pulled and the water that had been impounded to form Lake Keith was draining under a state highway, to an outfall that flowed through two small ponds, that spilled yet again to Osage Creek, a major tributary to the Illinois River in the urban headwaters of the Illinois River Watershed. The chilly, 54 degree water that formed the lake, (like all of Arkansas’ “lakes” it is really a man-made reservoir), entered from an underground spring deep inside the cave for which the town of Cave Springs is named.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas tells us that Elijah Allen first built an earthen dam around 1852 to power a gristmill. Allen used the Scottish term for lake (loch) and following the tradition to name the lake after his daughter, called it Loch Lono.
Wilson Mortimer Bartlett then purchased the lake property around the time that Cave Springs incorporated in 1910 and in 1914, dedicated the concrete dam structure that still carries the names of Loch Lono and Bartlett Dam with the date of 1914. If you look closely, you can still read the raised lettering on the now exposed, original concrete dam structure as you pass by the lake on Hwy 112 in downtown Cave Springs.
Now, 100 years later, work begins anew with the Illinois River Watershed Partnership and our partners from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, working to restore the natural stream habitat, to preserve and protect native aquatic and terrestrial species, while incorporating low impact development features for visitors of all ages to enjoy this unique environment and place in the Illinois River Watershed in Northwest Arkansas.
Many interested citizens want to know, will draining the lake negatively impact the threatened Ozark Cavefish population, so important to this ecosystem? The answer, researchers tell us, is “No.” “The cavefish are a hardy species and will remain deep in the cave system even during harsh rain events,” according to Dr. Art Brown, University of Arkansas Professor of Biological Sciences.
What can negatively impact the cavefish could happen above the cave with agriculture or development that does not allow for proper water recharge of the spring, illicit septic or sewer overflows, contamination from improper use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers that could have devastating impacts on the cavefish and gray bat populations.
The lake will remain “unplugged” while stream restoration is ongoing and will remain a thin stream during construction of lake improvements, a lakeside trail and a north side outdoor pavilion, and south side Cave Pavilion.
Many of us have mixed emotions as excitement for restoration and future habitat improvements rise; but our excitement is tempered by the rugged nature of a thin stream of cold water that continues to flow through the dried lake bed, looking more like a scar than the beauty that awaits the refilling of the lake. We know that this special place must look rough through most of 2014, much like 100 years ago when the first concrete dam was built. But the time will come to “plug” and refill the lake, and we’ll be ready for the new lake to shimmer and shine at the Illinois River Watershed Sanctuary.
Help us write our FAQs!
Restoring the lake and creating a unique environment for nature lovers to learn about watershed management first hand will take some time. Residents, visitors, and the casual observer will all have questions about the vision for the Sanctuary and its progress. Submit your questions in the comments box below (or email us at Team@IRWP.org) and help us compile a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions to post on our website during construction!
Ozark’s at Large, 10-2-13 Story on NPR’s KUAF by Jacqueline Froehlich