Progress on Middle Piney dam project


SUBLETTE COUNTY – The “two-plus year” project to rebuild the old dam at Middle Piney Lake is turning into a longer-term affair, with this summer the fifth it’s been closed.

That’s why Big Piney District Ranger Greg Brooks coaxed two days of day use from the powers that be and opened it to the public over Fathers Day weekend for fishing, boating, four-wheeling, hiking and picnicking.

“Man, you got to let people come in here,” Brooks said he told them. “This is the fifth season it’s going to be closed. It was supposed to be done at the end of October 2021.”

Brooks hopes to arrange at least partial access later this summer but the giant machinery sitting idle that weekend will be moving a lot of earth and stone around.

On Saturday, June 18 alone, about 150 people – many locals – came out to check on progress and enjoy the view, which looks the same as before – but the original vantage point from shore is under hundreds of tons of rock. Sunday more people came to use the boat ramp, fish and take in the view.

Getting started

Even October 2021 was behind the initial schedule, which the Bridger-Teton National Forest scoped in 2015 to increase its storage capacity and provide public safety.

In July 2018, former Gov. Matt Mead, sisters Janet Budd Beiermann and Karen Budd Falen and dignitaries had gathered at the high-mountain lake in the Wyoming Range for the project’s groundbreaking ceremony. The lake’s then 75-year-old earthen dam was leaking and seeping and the Forest Service, with numerous partners, resolved to rebuild it and increase storage, recreation and late-season irrigation. The road was also targeted for a redo.

Middle Piney was the first of Mead’s “Ten in 10” water-storage projects to reach the construction stage. He dedicated the project to the late Dan Budd of Big Piney.

Back then

The reservoir was created by a massive “ancient” landslide that users reinforced now 82 years ago as part of the old dam’s south side, according to then-Big Piney District Ranger Mike Thom who kicked off the 2015 scoping and an environmental assessment.

Due to safety concerns, Thom said the BTNF left the outlet gate open to release in a pass-through mode water. Now the outlet channel is boxed and Middle Piney Creek running downhill like it did before, only with a safer and more predictable path.

A logjam no longer blocks the outlet and a brand new facility, looking like a tower now, will have tons of rock and dirt filling in the deep hole that last weekend’s visitors drove through. Even unfinished, the dam’s difference between “then” and “now” is breathtaking.

And so is the view – which hasn’t changed at all.

© 2022-Sublette Examiner

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