Lilly Lake Dam Break

Monday, March 24, 2008

Disgrace near Traders Point

J.K. Lilly may have been inspired by Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of modern day landscape architecture, during the creation of Lilly Lake. This small man-made lake, nestled in a mature wooded border, with its natural earthen levee at the south end of water’s edge, dates to the early 1930s and is one of the crown jewels of Eagle Creek Park. The news today that the dam has been allowed to fail due to budgetary concerns and neglect, is a travesty. When the city accepted title to Eagle Creek Park, they should have established a maintenance reserve to maintain the property’s amenities at the time of the gift, including but not limited to this lake, in perpetuity. Evidently that either was not done or the piggy bank was robbed. Patrons of Eagle Creek Park are well aware that the Eagle Creek Foundation has stepped in on numerous occasions to assist with the park’s department budgetary shortfalls. The foundation rang the bell early and often that this matter needed to be addressed. Unfortunately it appears the cost to repair has inflated considerably thanks to the neglect of the rightful custodian; Indy Parks.
March 24, 2008
Eagle Creek Park lake drains,
Foundation, citizens board had sought repairs to earthen dam at Lilly LakeBy Melanie D.
Late Sunday morning, John Ulmer was driving through Eagle Creek Park to meet his bird-watching group when he noticed a drastic change in the scenery — Lilly Lake was drained.
Sometime in the night or early morning, the lake’s dam had given way.
“We noticed all the mud and several hundred fish that were laying along the ditch along the dam,” said Ulmer, 66. “It was recent enough that the fish were still flopping around.”
The earthen dam is 120 to 140 feet across at the top. Its condition had been a concern for several months, and the structure recently was patched. Three existing holes apparently grew large enough to let massive amounts of water drain out, although the specifics were still being investigated late Sunday.
The dam did not completely break, which would have caused a surge of water. Officials planned to meet today to figure out what to do next.
Although the scene stopped Ulmer in his tracks, he wasn’t surprised. Ulmer, who has met his bird-watching group every Sunday for 15 years at the park, is the chairman of the Eagle Creek Park Citizens Advisory Committee, which has been fighting for the dam’s upkeep.
“I thought, ‘Gee, it finally happened,’ ” the Zionsville-area resident said. “Periodically they would fill it up, so cosmetically it would look nice, but they never went about a proper repair of it. This has been this way for at least three years.”
Eagle Creek Park, with its 5,300 acres, is the 12th largest city-owned park in the country and a recreational destination for residents and international tourists.
Lilly Lake, however, has been a safety hazard because its dam has been in poor shape for several years, said Michelle Cloud, president of the Eagle Creek Park Foundation. The foundation had asked the Indy Parks and Recreation to repair it, but money wasn’t made available, she said.
“The repair of the dam, had it been undertaken five years ago, would have cost $50,000,” Cloud said. “Since it hasn’t been repaired, every rainy season, huge holes develop in the dam . . . rusting away supporting structures and damaging the bridge downstream. The cost for both those projects would now be $550,000.”
Had the dam been repaired in a timely manner, the lake wouldn’t have been washed out, Cloud said.
“I’m extremely disappointed that this has happened, especially when we had so much forewarning,” she said. “But I’m very grateful it was not a catastrophic dam collapse. It’s a beautiful day and people are walking around and enjoying the park. There could have been lives lost.”
Jeff Ward, Indy Parks’ administrator for environmental education and land stewardship, said an engineer looked at the dam a few months ago.
“We knew that there were issues that needed to be taken care of,” he said. “But there was no indication . . . of a catastrophic failure, which did not take place. The dam itself did not fail. There was no gush, no damage to the roadway, no more damage to the bridge below the dam.”
The water and fish — largemouth bass, catfish, bluegills, carp — were swept through the dam, into a stream, and into Eagle Creek Reservoir, Ward said. Some fish survived the 250- to 300-foot trip.
Ward expects to meet today with Indy Parks Director Joseph Wynns and others.
As recently as January, after citizens complained the dam was eroding and runoff had damaged a nearby bridge, a parks department spokeswoman said the dam and levee were not failing.

About Ross Reller

I am pleased you have expressed interest in learning more about the historic Traders Point area in Indianapolis, Indiana. From 1980 to 1982 I was employed in the PR department at Conner Prairie Museum in Hamilton County. There I learned about William Conner, an important figure in Indiana's pioneer days. A decade later I became interested in the history of the Traders Point area and was surprised to learn that William Conner had been the first land owner in the area. In 1823 he acquired, through the Federal land office in Brookville, a patent for an 80 acre tract carved by Eagle Creek and an Indian trail that was about to be named the first toll roadway through the township (Lafayette Road). Thirty years later a village took shape within this tract. A grain mill on the creek, houses, churches, stores, restaurants, and two gas stations would take shape here in the creek valley hamlet of Traders Point. By 1962 all improvements (except a farmer's co-op) had been removed by the Indianapolis Flood Control Board to make way for Interstate 65 and a new reservoir. This blog is dedicated to preserving evidence of this historic area but I will occasionally use it to discuss related topics. To activate this follow, simply click the confirm button below. If you don't want to follow, ignore this message and we'll never bother you again. I am also a member of the Old Pleasant Hill Cemetery, a non profit association still selling burial plots for those who would like to spend all eternity in Traders Point, and I am an officer in the Pike Township Historical Society and the Traders Point Association of Neighborhoods.
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