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Stewart Lake Gets a Radical Fix

August 12, 2007

By Gena Kittner, The Wisconsin State Journal

Aug. 12–TOWN OF BLUE MOUNDS — A popular fishing spot and swimming hole for nearly a century, Stewart Lake has morphed into an algae and silt fraught body of water. But a siphon drawing down the seven-acre lake near Mount Horeb in southwestern Dane County is an important step, county officials say, to returning this popular destination to its original glory.

“With the amount of algae and weed growth, it ‘s hard to recreate, ” said Pete Jopke, watershed project manager with Dane County Land and Water Resources. The prime fishing spots are hard to access from shore, he said.

A siphon was installed in Stewart Lake the first week of August to lower the water level by draining it down the backside of the dam into Moen Creek.

As of Friday, the lake was down about 3 feet, Jopke said.

The hope is to drain the lake as much as possible by Oct. 1, which will allow for remaining critters — such as turtles and frogs — to find a home for the winter, he said.

This fall as the water level continues to lower, Jopke said there is a concern that some fish will go to waste, but he stressed that size and quantity limits still apply to people fishing.

Next spring, the county and state Department of Natural Resources will decide the best way to deal with the sediment as it dries.

Studies in 1993 and 2006 recommended dredging as the No. 1 option to improve the lake ‘s water quality, he said. Removing the sediment takes away the nutrients on which the algae feed and should increase the flow of water from the lake ‘s natural spring, he said.

Drawing down Stewart Lake also allows the county to inspect the dam.

Stewart Lake, originally called Lake Park, was a popular tourist destination in the early 1900s when people would take train rides to the Mount Horeb area to fish and swim at the park, said Darren Marsh, Dane County parks director.

In addition to skating, swimming and fishing, people used to harvest ice from the lake to supply a local creamery.

At that time the lake was “crystal clear, ” he said. “That ‘s what drew people, the water quality was just fantastic. “

In 1935 the park was sold to the county, becoming the first Dane County Park.

As the population grew around Mount Horeb, storm runoff and sediments started to pile up on the lake ‘s floor, tarnishing the clear water, Marsh said.

“From the ’70s up until now, it ‘s slowly declined as far as the use, ” he said. “It ‘s not the best looking lake. “

As a way to stop incoming sediment, in the 1990s the county and village constructed sediment traps and storm water retention areas, he said.

Since then it ‘s been determined the lake will likely need to be dredged to open the springs and restore it to its original depth.

“This is one (lake) we feel that we can completely restore and bring it back to what it used to provide for the patrons that used to swim there, ” Marsh said.

Once the draw-down is complete, Marsh said the lake may sit nearly empty for a year or two.

The longer the fine sediment soil can sit there, the more water can evaporate and drain out of the soil and the sediment will be easier to remove, he said.

Marsh estimates the total project could take two or three years before the lake is again ready for swimming and fishing.

“We certainly know the citizens in that area of the county are really looking forward to it, ” Marsh said. “It ‘s something we want to see happen. “

Paul Mason, who lives in Mount Horeb and grew up about a mile from Stewart Lake, heard about the restoration efforts and took his children to the lake to check it out on Thursday.

“I used to go to Stewart Lake a lot, ” Mason said. “Fifteen years ago I used to go down there to snorkel and the (water) condition was really clear, ” he said.

He also remembered it as a hot fishing spot.

“The opening day of fishing season years ago was shoulder-to-shoulder, ” he said.

Although he still takes his family fishing at the lake, he said the restoration efforts are needed.

“I think it ‘s great. It ‘s a jewel of a little spot. “

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