Hazardous dam at Fort Robinson to be removed instead of replaced

By: - November 14, 2023 11:14 am
Carter P. Johnson Lake

The dam that forms Carter P. Johnson Lake at Fort Robinson State Park will be removed due to its hazardous condition. (Courtesy of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission)

LINCOLN — An earthen dam, rated as a high-hazard-potential structure, will be removed at Fort Robinson State Park in the name of public safety, a state agency announced Tuesday.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said that if the dam fails that forms Carter P. Johnson Lake at Fort Robinson, campers at the Soldier Creek Campground 4 1/2 miles downstream would be imperiled.

That risk is unacceptable, the commission said in a press release on Tuesday.

The 480-foot-long earthen dam was built in 1935, and was reclassified in 2020 as a high-hazard-potential dam by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, which inspects dams.

Dam at risk of failure

The agency said deficiencies in the structure could lead to its sudden or complete failure.

Consultants hired by Game and Parks estimated it would cost at least $11 million to replace the dam with a structure that meets today’s more rigorous design and safety standards.

Instead, the commission has decided to remove the dam, and restore the natural flow in Soldier Creek, a popular trout stream in northwest Nebraska.

“Our goal is to mitigate the loss of Carter P. Johnson Lake with enhanced angling opportunities in Soldier Creek,” said Jim Swenson, the deputy director of Game and Parks.

Steps to improve fishing have been undertaken recently at other fishing spots at Fort Robinson, including the Ice House Ponds, Grable ponds and Cherry Creek Pond.

Draining of Carter P. Johnson Lake will begin this fall so that the dam can be removed.

Frontier officer

Carter P. Johnson was a frontier officer who served five tours of duty at Fort Robinson, according to a June 1989 article in Nebraska History by Tom Buecker, the curator of the Fort Robinson Museum.

Johnson was a private in 1877 when Lakota warrior Crazy Horse was killed at the Fort, and was a sergeant during the Cheyenne Outbreak of 1878-79.

“He was a first-class officer with rather uncouth frontier ways,” was how one commanding officer described him.

Once, Johnson shot a cowboy in self-defense in a barroom brawl in Maxey, Arizona, after being called a “Yankee son of a bitch.”

He retired as a major in 1909, settling on a ranch west of Fort Robinson.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.