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Rock-solid restoration: New Knutson Dam near Pennington unveiled

U.S. Forest Service engineers Jon Hodgson and Dan Dennis look out at the Knutson Dam on Thursday after the ribbon cutting ceremony for the dam at the Knutson Dam Campground in Pennington. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 6
Chippewa National Forest Supervisor Darla Lenz speaks during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Knutson Dam on Thursday at the Knutson Dam Campground. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 6
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the Knutson Dam after it was replaced was held on Thursday at the Knutson Dam Campground. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 6
From left: Todd Langston, of Otter Tail Power Co., Steve Mortenson, Minnesota DNR, Darla Lenz, Supervisor of the Chippewa National Forest, and Rich Robinson, of Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Knutson Dam. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 6
A brace of mergansers swim together on Thursday near the Knutson Dam in Pennington. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 6
Two mergansers swim in the Knutson Dam area on Thursday in Pennington. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)6 / 6

PENNINGTON -- A restoration project officials say will greatly benefit both people and aquatic wildlife along the Mississippi River and area lakes was officially unveiled here Thursday.

The Knutson Dam Improvement Project in Pennington included the removal of the old dam and replacing it with rock-arch rapids. That will improve water flow and the habitats for fish and other aquatic species between Cass Lake and Lake Winnibigoshish.

“There are many benefits to the removal of the previous dam and the construction: directly, we’ll be able to enhance over 30 miles of the river and enhance 72,000 acres of lake habitat between Cass and Winnie,” said Darla Lenz, Chippewa National Forest Supervisor, in a speech on Thursday. “It’s vital to our local economies, vital to our aquatic ecosystems, certainly vital to the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, and vital to the drinking water and other benefits that are provided to the public from here to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Before the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, awards were presented to the partners of the project: the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Otter Tail Power and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“We couldn’t have done this work without our partners, and it’s really been a cooperative effort along the way,” Lenz said.

Amanda Hillman, a stream resource coordinator with the DNR, added that “funding came from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. This is our taxpayer dollars at work and they’re funding great projects like this one.”

Costs for the Knutson Dam Improvement Project total about $1.2 million.

Constructed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Knutson Dam was transferred to the Forest Service in 1926, according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

The restoration project was given the Collaborative Aquatic Stewardship Award from the U.S. Forest Service for “the significance of the project in terms of the design, the impacts but also because of the creativity in pulling together the partnerships,” Lenz said.

“It’s great to see this project happening in an area on this scale in the state of Minnesota,” said Tony Standera, fisheries specialist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife at the DNR. “Hopefully this will be the first of many to come.”

To see a video about the Knutson Dam project, click here. 

Audrey Zimmerman

Audrey Zimmerman is a reporter for the Blackduck American, covering everything from high school sports to City Council meetings. She graduated from the College of St. Scholastica in May 2015 and joined the Pioneer staff the following February. She also contributes to the Pioneer, reporting on local goings-on and events. 

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