70 years of Fall River Dam

As with many Civil Works and commercial production projects at the time, construction was delayed or halted as U.S. manufacturing and construction resources were redirected into supporting the war effort.

The end of World War II in 1944 resulted in a renewed focus on Civil Works projects and construction on Fall River Dam began in May 1946. The dam and earthworks were completed on August 12, 1948 and within 10 months, the conservation pool filled and the reservoir was ready for full flood control operations.

Located on the Fall River, a tributary of the Verdigris River, at river mile 54.2, Fall River Dam is four miles northwest of the town of Fall River in Greenwood County. Its missions include: flood control, water quality, fish and wildlife.

The dam consists of a 5,545 foot earthen embankment and a concrete spillway that stretches to a length of 470-feet for a combined 6,015 foot structure. The dam rises 94 feet above the streambed to an elevation of 996.5 feet.

Terry Lyons, the Emergency Manager for Wilson County, Kansas worked at the Fall River Lake Project office as a Corps of Engineers park ranger for an 18-month stint from 1978 to 1979, and then again from 1981 to 2006.

While a ranger at Fall River, Lyons witnessed the floods of 1982 and 1986.

During the flood of 1982, Lyons said he saw the water rise a foot in an hour. He recalled that the Ladd Bridge was washed downstream, and trying to rescue some campers whose vehicles were stranded on a knoll.

“We received a call that these campers had a car and pick-up stranded near an old rock quarry,” said Lyons. After several attempts to wench out the vehicles the rangers had to give the campers the bad news. “I can remember having to tell them we’re sorry but your vehicles are going under water.”

Kent Dunlap, Chief of Recreation for Tulsa District, was a new ranger assigned to Oologah Lake as a ranger in 1986 but he was sent to Fall River to assist during flood operations.

One of the responsibilities of park rangers during 24-hour flood operations is to perform visual inspections of the earthen embankment taking piezometer readings to determine ground water pressure and looking for seepage and other potential concerns.

“I was working the midnight to noon shift and for two-and-a-half or three weeks, I walked up and down that embankment at Fall River,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap arrived at the Fall River lake office after driving up from Oologah, Oklahoma and working through the day.

“I didn’t eat lunch. I thought, I’ll just stop at a place. Well, there was no place,” Dunlap said. “Everything was closed. I ended up going back to the lake office and finding a sleeve of crackers. My first dinner at Fall River was a half sleeve of saltine crackers.”

In the early 1980s many campsites hadn’t been delineated. There was minimal shade. Campers arrived, found a location they liked and set up camp for their duration of their stay.

Lyons said the Fall River Lake Office received permission from a local land owner to harvest trees and provide shade for recreation areas in the early 1980s.

“The trees were only an inch or two around when we transplanted them,” said Lyons. “Today those trees are 12 to 22 inches in diameter.”

Today Fall River Lake receives more than 300,000 visitors each year for water-based recreation.

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