Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hike across Midwest’s largest earthen dam

Eau Galle Reservoir, aka Lake George, from an overlook west of the dam.
Day hikers can walk across the largest earthen dam in the Midwest on the Eau Galle Dam Trail near Spring Valley, Wis.

The 0.8-mile round trip hike sits in the popular Eau Galle Recreation Area, nestled on borders of St. Croix and Pierce counties. To reach the trailhead, from Spring Valley, head west on Wis. Hwy. 29. In about a mile, turn right/north onto Van Buren Road then right/west onto Eau Galle Dam Road. Next, go right/southwest onto Overlook Road, which curves north; after climbing a hill, turn left into an overlook. Park there.

North of the lot is an overlook where you can take in a view of the 150-acre Eau Galle Reservoir, aka Lake George and on some government maps as Spring Valley Lake 64. The view is from the reservoir’s south shore northward across the lake’s center.

The lake boasts thriving populations of bluegills, crappies, largemouth bass, and sunfish. Anglers often can be spotted on boats and along the shoreline. Recreation here isn’t limited to fishing, though. A campground, playgrounds, beaches, and several hiking and equestrian trails also can be found. Many of those amenities are visible from the overlook, which sits at about 1100 feet elevation.

A dirt footpath runs west from the overlook through a wooded area then curves north to another vista of the lake. From there, follow the asphalt road south before curving onto the earthen dam itself.

A rolled-earth and rock-filled dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction holds back the Eau Galle River. The waterway rises out of farm fields just south of Woodville, Wis. Fed by a 64-square-mile drainage basin, the river’s floods frequently devastated Spring Valley until the dam was built in the mid 1960s. The controlled river eventually makes its way to the Chippewa, which in turn drains into the Mississippi River.

The trail runs the full length of the dam, which is almost 2000 feet. It’s fairly wide, but the sides are steep. If heights are a problem for hikers, instead take the footpath to the left/west before crossing the dam; that route heads along the dam's west side to the lake’s shoreline.

After crossing the dam, retrace your steps back to the overlook parking lot.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.