Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The power of the Zumbro August 11, 2022

Fishing at the base of the Lake Zumbro Dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

An overview of the dam and fishing area next to Mac’s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Mac’s Park Place by the Zumbro River and dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The 100-plus year-old powerhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

The Lake Zumbro hydroelectric dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

A hillside of trees hugs the bank of the Zumbro River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Fishing below the Lake Zumbro Dam on a Saturday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

An angler’s gear, beverages, etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Fishing along the grassy river bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Fishing near that powerful wall of rushing water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Angling in the Zumbro River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

There’s power here, in this wall of water. I heard it, saw it, felt it.

This rock formation in the Zumbro River caught my eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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

 

10 Responses to “The power of the Zumbro”

  1. beth Says:

    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.

  2. Eugene Bertrand Says:

    With all that power why aren’t they making any electricity?

  3. 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.

  4. So this dam is still an operational dam? Produces electric power?
    Looks impressive.

  5. Valerie Says:

    We will want to go see this dam site. Thanks for sharing this discovery.


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