Gun Lake Protective Association
The Gun Lake Dam and Our Watershed
In spite of rumors that Gun Lake was once a series of smaller lakes, a map of the area from 1873 shows that Gun Lake pretty much looked the way we know it today, except along with 20,000 acres of the Gun Lake Swamp on the south side. The swamp was reportedly “good for duck hunting and little else”, until a farmer planted a crop on a patch of dry ground and discovered how fertile the land was! The first “Petition to Drain” (the swamp) was taken out in 1892. Other petitions followed through the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. By 1905, the newly-formed Gun Lake Protective Association took their case to Circuit Court, claiming the proposed draining would lower Gun Lake by two feet and ruin the enjoyment of the lake, which was rapidly becoming a fishing and recreational attraction and tourist destination. An earthen dam was built further downstream on the Gun River to keep the lake level up.
There were also rumors of the dam being blown up by dynamite a few times. The farmland being created by draining the swamp was VERY valuable; and the dam was keeping the lake level intact. If it WAS dynamited, it was probably duck hunters who did it (or someone resenting the rapid growth around the lake). Finally, in 1921, the Gun Lake Protective Association once again went to court, and the Circuit Court decreed a lake level of 744.32’ above sea level must be maintained. The State of Michigan created a statute that maintains that level by law to this day under the Lake Level Control Act.
The concrete dam that most residents remember was built in 1951. It was 72’ wide; and the concrete extended about 4’ below the lake bed with steel I-beams driven below that. On May 27, 2015 the downstream center of the dam started to show a strong upwelling of water, meaning the dam had been breached underneath. (About 3 weeks before the dam breach, our area felt a strong (by Michigan standards) 4.2 magnitude earthquake. A link between the two events was never proven; but liquefaction beneath the dam may have started a small breach) By 6:00 PM that evening, the Barry County Drain Commission and Road Commission were working hard to dump hundreds of thousands of pounds of boulders on the upstream and downstream sides of the dam to keep it from breaking and wiping out the Marsh Rd culverts and flooding the cropland downstream. The hasty-but-well-thought-out repair worked great. The dam (and lake!) was saved, but the dam was still leaking, which resulted in some lower-than usual water levels later that summer and the following years.