Lake Leatherwood Dam crossing closed to public

Thursday, March 25, 2021
The dam at Lake Leatherwood City Park is closed to pedestrian and bike access indefinitely after a recent inspection showed excessive deterioration and damage to the structure.

The dam at Lake Leatherwood City Park is indefinitely closed to cyclists and hikers.

At the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission’s regular meeting on Tuesday, March 16, chairman Kevin Ruehle explained the reason for the closure. Ruehle said that the commission hired structural engineer Bill Hathaway to inspect the dam to create a scope of work for repairs. During that inspection, Ruehle said, Hathaway found “significant deterioration” to the dam railing structure and expressed concern for public safety.

“The conditions we found were, frankly, quite shocking,” Ruehle said.

Ruehle said the freezing temperatures in February caused some of the deterioration, but there was clear evidence of “vandalism enabled by the advanced deterioration of the concrete structure.” The concrete that was laid decades ago was not a “terribly controlled concrete mix,” Ruehle said.

“It would not meet any current standards for concrete,” Ruehle said. “The mix obviously used locally sourced — and by locally sourced, I mean by going up the hill and digging it up. Karst is the aggregate rather than a quality round stone, which is what would normally be specified.”

In addition to the concrete failing to meet current standards, Ruehle said, routine maintenance was not performed on the structure. Ruehle said coating has never been placed on the outside of the structure.

“And typically, you would initiate a regular maintenance schedule,” Ruehle said. “This is something that should have started 20 years ago … because the concrete over time will absorb moisture and start cracking.”

As water flows through cracks in the concrete, Ruehle said, the lime is removed and it calcifies. That makes the concrete weaker, Ruehle said. Ruehle reiterated that much of the damage to the railing is because of vandalism.

“I was across it as recent as January and there was nowhere near the damage that exists right now,” Ruehle said. “There’s one entire railing section that’s gone. A number of railings … the concrete has been broken off of them. You can tell it’s all recent, because it’s all very clean.”

Ruehle added, “There’s even one concrete pier that it looks as though someone tried to push off because it’s leaning about 4 inches at the top and that’s not anything the freeze … ever would have done.”

Ruehle said the dam has been closed to protect cyclists and hikers, but that’s not the only reason.

“We need to protect what’s there until we decide how to restore or repair or replace it,” Ruehle said.

Hathaway has agreed to provide the commission with a detailed inspection, Ruehle said, which would include recommendations for repairing, replacing or restoring the structure. The closest companies that would provide restoration services are located in Texas, Ruehle said, and wouldn’t be available to complete the work for more than a year.

“It’s likely that the public access to the top of the dam is going to be closed for some time,” Ruehle said. “I think our estimate was that at least 30 percent of the rails have pretty significant damage to them and pieces broken off. Another 30 percent of both the piers and the rails show fairly significant cracking in them.”

On one section of the railing, Ruehle said, you can reach down and peel the concrete with your fingers.

“It was so deteriorated,” Ruehle said.

The concern is limited to the dam railing, Ruehle said, as the dam is inspected annually. Interim parks director Scott Miskiel said the last inspection occurred last October.

“We have no reason to believe that the condition has changed since the last time the dam was inspected,” Ruehle said. “There are no issues with the safety of the dam itself. This is just the public portion of it.”

Ruehle said it would be expensive to restore the dam railings and suggested looking for grants to cover the expenses. Commissioner Sue Hubbard asked if there is any signage stating that the dam crossing is closed and Ruehle said it is closed off with temporary signage. Grounds and maintenance manager Dave Renko is working on more permanent signage, Ruehle said.

“That will go at the trailheads leaving the center of the park and from the ballfields area of the park,” Ruehle said. “There’s intersections at both places. Once you go past those points, you either turn at the dam or go back. That’s where there will be signs that say you can’t cross the dam.”

The commission then heard from Miskiel, who said there are much needed repairs at Basin Park, Magnetic Spring and Crescent Spring. Ruehle suggested that Miskiel meet with the finance committee to decide how to prioritize the work and reconfigure the budget to take care of it.

“Lack of appropriate maintenance … is starting to rear its head kind of beyond what any of us expected,” Ruehle said. “It behooves us to go back and do a reassessment and look closer at things.”

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 20, at The Aud.

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