From Hazard To Attraction: The Ames Low Head Dam Conversion


AMES, Iowa – When Ames officials cut the ribbon to open the North River Valley Low Head Dam Project they will have turned a potential danger into an inviting nature area. A celebration at the site begins at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, May 1st with an outdoor open house following until noon.

During the 1980’s the city built a dam to create a pool of water on the Skunk River to help recharge the aquifer used to supplement the city’s water supply. Dams of this type are now recognized as a drowning hazard. The solution, in this case, was to keep the dam in place but change how the river flows over it.

On the north side of the dam a ramp eases water into pools created by boulders. When the flow is high enough paddlers can use this side to cross the dam. On the south side of the dam boulders break up the turbulence and step the water down a series of rapids that fish and other water species can navigate to get upstream of the dam.

The riverbank in the area was modified as well, to allow visitors easy access to the water. Tons of soil was removed and concrete walkways were added.

Planning for this project began over 10 years ago. The cost was around $1 million with a mix of city money, grants and donations funding the construction. More improvements are planned to North River Valley Park in the next few years.

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