WATER RUSHES IN A SHEET over the dam, a powerful wall of water spilling from the 600-acre Lake Zumbro reservoir into the river below by Mac’s Park Place & Campground in rural Mazeppa.
Until several months ago, I was unaware of this hydroelectric generating plant along the Zumbro River in southeastern Minnesota. But Randy and I discovered the Rochester Public Utilities facility after turning off Wabasha County Road 21 onto a gravel road that led us to Mac’s at the base of the dam.
I stood in awe of this structure with a spillway spanning 440 feet and a height of 55 feet. Constructed beginning in 1917 and operating since 1919 under ownership of the RPU, this hydroelectric generating plant is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s truly an amazing feat of engineering and construction. Renowned engineer Hugh L. Cooper led the project.
Not only are the dam and powerhouse impressive, but so is the natural setting in the backwoods of the river valley. Here trees fill the hillside across the Zumbro from Mac’s. In the greening of spring, when we visited, the scene was wild, scenic, beautiful. I expect autumn would yield a hillside flaming in color.
On a Saturday afternoon in May, anglers angled for fish in the placid river, the roaring dam nearby, dwarfing their size. Access to this seemingly popular fishing spot comes via Mac’s, which charges a fee for non-campers.
In August 2019, this was the site of a boating incident which injured four people after their pontoon plunged over the dam. I can’t imagine the terror they felt in that moment of realizing what was about to happen.
There’s power here, in this wall of water. I heard it, saw it, felt it.
But then I experienced the power, too, that comes with this natural setting. The power to quiet the spirit in the placid river, the rock formations, the tree-filled hillside… The Zumbro River can be harnessed, but not tamed. There’s an undeniable wildness in this place that yields peace.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
What a beautiful spot, waiting to be discovered. The engineering involved in harnessing that power is amazing. So glad you found another wonderful spot that was not only interesting but also relaxing.
Yes, this was an interesting discovery, not only for the natural setting but also for that power-producing dam.
With all that power why aren’t they making any electricity?
They are, Eugene. Click on the Rochester Public Utilities link in this post for more info.
Aren’t dams fascinating? I remember when I was little we lived right across the road from the Ohio River. They built a locks and dam while we lived there and I have great memories of watching the progress, throwing apples from our trees to the heavy machine operators and just feeling like we were part of it all. I spent a lot of time on our banks watching.
How interesting that must have been. That you tossed apples to the laborers adds to the sweetness of your memories.
So this dam is still an operational dam? Produces electric power?
Yes, the dam is still operational and produces electric power for the Rochester Public Utilities Commission (city of Rochester).
We will want to go see this dam site. Thanks for sharing this discovery.
What I don’t know is whether there’s another access point other than through Mac’s.