Opening the Flood Gates

A recent Watershed Management Plan developed by the Lower Rum River Watershed Management Organization (formed in September 1995 by Anoka, Andover, Ramsey, and Coon Rapids) prompted the City of Anoka to recall its beginnings and the history of the dam sitting in view of City Hall.

Rum River below the dam where a historic stone playhouse sits

Rum River below the dam where a historic stone playhouse sits

When the City of Anoka was first settled in 1844, Joseph Belanger was one of the first to arrive and build his log cabin on the east side of the Rum River. In 1854 the first dam on the Rum River was built in its present location (I have a picture of its construction as my screensaver at work). Taking advantage of the water power, many settlers opened sawmill operations and related businesses on the banks of the Rum River. Soon after the Rum River and Mississippi River were filled with logs destined for the Village of St. Anthony (now Minneapolis). Saw-milling reached its peak early and by 1885 the newly created Board of Trade encouraged other industries to move in, prompting potato production, an 80 employee shoe factory, flour mills, and the state hospital to open.

In 1935 the City of Anoka purchased the dam and its flowage rights from the Pillsbury Flour Mill. As the sole owner, the City is responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement of the Dam. As the responsible party for the dams care, every spring and fall the City redirects the flow of water around the dam in order to put in or take out large wood boards. With the boards in place, the water level above the dam is raised which residents living on river enjoy. Each fall the boards need to come out, otherwise large ice dams floating down the river will threaten to damage the dam as they pass over the edge.

View of the dam after the gate was opened today (you can see the Public Works crew out on the platform in their yellow jackets)

View of the dam after the gate was opened today (you can see the Public Works crew out on the platform in their yellow jackets)

The whole process is fascinating to say the least. They begin in the afternoon by literally opening the floodgates. The steel door is lifted, allowing the water it was holding back through. Initially, a gushing wave rushes through, slowing once the water level has dropped and stopped flowing over the dam. At this point, the public works crew walk out over the approximately 6 foot wide platform at the dam's edge to inspect for any damage. They drop a small bobcat onto the dam platform by crane which moves forward and back, either picking up the boards or placing them back down. They use this opportunity to pull out any logs that are caught on the dam. The last fun task is to change the light bulbs underneath the dam that illuminate the water at night. In the fall, they put in green and red for the holiday season.

Water gushing through the open gate

Water gushing through the open gate

Once all the work has been completed, they close the floodgate and the river redirects its flow back over the dam as if nothing had changed. We have such power over nature, forcing its flow to suit our needs. We began harnessing the Rum River back in 1854 and now the dam serves mostly as a fishing hole and lookout point. Without this dam though, Anoka would never have grown into a thriving industrial town or the Halloween Capital of the World (it is believed that Anoka was the first city in the United States to put on a Halloween Celebration in 1920). If you stop to think about it, nature still directs the pattern of city development to this day.

You can see the water spraying through the boards here before the water level dropped enough to walk out onto the platform (this was in the fall when the boards were taken out for winter)

You can see the water spraying through the boards here before the water level dropped enough to walk out onto the platform (this was in the fall when the boards were taken out for winter)