By this time next year, one of the most popular long-time fishing spots in the Northern Panhandle will be no more.
Citing safety concerns, Nebraska Game and Parks is decommissioning and removing the 88-year old dam on Soldier Creek that creates Carter P. Johnson Lake at Fort Robinson State Park.
Game and Parks deputy director Jim Swenson says the 480-foot-long earthen dam was reclassified as a high-hazard-potential dam in February 2020 by the Nebraska Deptt of Natural Resources. Swenson says that after extensive study and review, the Game and Parks Commission decided removing the dam was the best course of action.
Experts say the Carter P Johnson Dam has 3 potential weakness that could lead to its sudden or complete failure: erosion and failure of the auxiliary spillway during floods; potential leaks in the spillway conduit running through the dam; excessive seepage and erosion through an open gravel layer just below the ground in the dam’s foundation.
Swenson says while Soldier Creek seldom sees serious flooding, the massive White River Flood a little more than 30 years ago shows the dam could receive heavy enough flows to cause a collapse that could lead to loss of life and heavy damage 4-½ miles downstream at Hwy 20 and the Soldier Creek Campground.
Game and Parks plans to restore the Carter P stretch of Soldier Creek to its original meandering state and enhance it for trout fishing. Swenson says Fort Robinson is blessed with multiple fishing opportunities in addition to Carter P with Game and Parks completing in the past few years a multi-million dollar renovation of all those sites.
Swenson says Game and Parks understands that Carter P Johnson “holds a special place in the hearts and minds of those living in northwest Nebraska (and) the guests who have visited there” – not to mention the staff who’ve worked on it – so the decision to remove the dam and lake was a very difficult one to make.
Fort Robinson staff will begin to drain the lake this fall to dry out the lakebed and surrounding soils in preparation for removal, which is planned for next year.