Poplar history drains awayA piece of Poplar history is draining away. The Poplar River Pond was a popular recreation spot for years. Residents remember fishing and swimming there, mere blocks south of Highway 2. It was a hang out spot for teens and even a site for weddings.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A piece of Poplar history is draining away. The Poplar River Pond was a popular recreation spot for years. Residents remember fishing and swimming there, mere blocks south of Highway 2. It was a hang out spot for teens and even a site for weddings.
“I don’t think there’s one native of Poplar who didn’t learn to swim in that pond,” said Karen Nevin, a village trustee.
The current dam was built in the 1920s to provide water for the Lange Canning Company. According to Jim Pellman with the Old-Brule Heritage Society, there was an earlier dam structure built on the site in the 1880s for a sawmill run by J. E. Chase. Norman “Bud” LaPole’s father bought the canning business and land in 1936, renaming it the Poplar Canning Company. The family ran the plant until 1960, LaPole said. The site was then owned by Pillsbury and General Mills. It is now the home of Northland Foods.
But the pond and dam themselves are on private land. In September, the two adjoining property owners — Michele Solberg and William Lundberg — were awarded a $50,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to remove the dam. To date, the pond’s waters have been drawn down about six feet and the dam breached. The goal is to get the water partially drained about a year before demolition to allow the upstream banks a chance to stabilize and give plants a chance to grow, according to Frank Dallam, water regulation and zoning engineer with the DNR’s Northern District Office in Spooner. That decreases the amount of sediment that will be washed downstream when the dam is removed.
Plans for demolition of the dam have not yet been submitted to the DNR, Dallam said. After they are received and approved, a public information meeting will be held.
According to village records, Solberg is seeking to sell the property and can’t with the dam on it. When contacted, she declined to comment.
“The village of Poplar totally understands the situation she’s in,” Nevin said. The board of trustees even checked what it would cost to take over maintenance of the dam. They would have to bring it up to current state standards because it is considered an unauthorized structure. Although the original 1925 construction was recorded, the dam failed in 1948 and was rebuilt. That reconstruction was never approved by the state.
“The cost would be astronomical,” Nevin said. “We didn’t feel we could burden the taxpayers with that.”
A dam safety inspection done by Dallam in 2010 found the dam to be in fair condition with a few deficiencies. Owners were given the option of fixing those deficiencies, removing the dam or transferring the dam to a responsible party, which could involve repairs.
“You can’t make people keep a dam,” Dallam said, adding that it’s rare for a private landowner to have a large dam on their property.
The lowering of Poplar River Pond, which Dallam said would be better termed an 80-acre lake, has already changed things for the village.
The Poplar Volunteer Fire Department used to fill its tanker trucks from a pump station that drew water from the pond. Now, the water is below their pipes. While they can still pump water from another pond two miles away, the process takes four or five people instead of just one, according to First Assistant Fire Chief Brad Nelson. And, in the event of a fire, they’ll need another department’s pumper truck to fill the tankers. Theirs, Nelson said, will be at the fire. Although they would be calling for mutual aid anyway, he said, the loss of the village pond complicates the process.
Nevin said there is a rumor circulating through the village that part of the dam will remain. That’s not true.
The idea of losing the dam and pond is, as many residents put it, heartbreaking.
“It really is a tremendous landmark here,” Pellman said.
Passers-by may not even know it’s there; it’s not visible to the public. But it’s been a part of village life for generations.
“I think all our kids swam in it,” said Betty Wood of Poplar.