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Trespassers Threatening Safety of Ward Lake Dam

BY MELANIE BUCK –

Ward Lake, at one time, was a lifeline to the budding young town of Mena, however, as Mena Water Utilities’ Manager Charles Pitman points out, it is sure to become a hazard if current human-caused erosion is not stopped.

Built in 1904, it began what is now Mena Water Utilities by providing water to the city and its residents. However, Pitman told The Pulse that since Ward Lake is not used anymore by the city as a water source for consumers, they have had problems with vandals trespassing on the property that surrounds the lake, Ward Dam, and the old water treatment plant. Specifically in danger, Pitman said, is the dam. Unsure if it’s local teens or just random people, Pitman said it is a popular hangout spot and empty beer cans and broken glass can be found littering the property most days. But the biggest concern is the use of the face of the dam as an ‘off road track.’

A ‘road’ has been created by the amount of people who try to ‘climb’ the dam in their vehicles. This road is creating what could become a disaster. Ward Lake feeds Ward Creek, which runs right through downtown Mena, passed Brodix, and to the front of Walmart, and beyond. In the event that a break in the dam should occur, floodwaters could rush through town causing major damage.

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Ward Lake was close to capacity during the 2013 flood season. PHOTO BY CHARLES PITMAN
Ward-Lake-2015
Photo of Ward Lake, February 2015.

In fact, in 1905, shortly after the dam was built, it did happen. As reported by The Mena Evening Star on March 10, 1905, “The big dam had broken loose and emptied its large lake of ten million gallons of water at the head of the ravine. Just below the dam the force of the water tore up large trees by the roots, rolled huge rocks down the mountain, washed the pipes out of the ground for a distance of three hundred feet from the dam and bent them around trees which stood in the path swept by the water.”

One hundred and ten years later, there are many more houses and businesses in the area that would be demolished if a break were to occur. Pitman wants everyone to know that just because there is not much water in the lake at the present time, it fills up quickly during torrential rains, as was the case in June 2013, when it was almost at capacity (see picture).

The city has attempted to keep trespassers out by installing a gate and patrolling the area but feel their efforts are almost futile. Pitman hopes that providing information to the community of the possible dangers, it will help everyone understand the importance of keeping the integrity of the dam in check for the safety of the citizens of Mena. Those found trespassing will be cited and subject to fines.

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3 comments

  1. Benjamin W. Harrison

    I thought the lake had been drained and was nearly empty. It had been drained in the past because of the dams structural integrity.

  2. I remember living on Magnolia in 1998/99 and there was a flash flood of rain– Our house was near the property edge frame on one side by the Ward Creek which filled up quick! We called friends to help with sand bags and packed to evacuate. Then 2 friends who actually worked with Mena Water were back in town and driving by-stopped and asked what is going on…We pointed at the rolling creek rising fast…One of them said “Oh! let me go check and make sure it isn’t open up there…They came back down and you could tell that just by closing it a little bit, the creek slowed it’s rage and did not rise until the rain was over. But it was scary…I worried the damn wouldn’t hold or that it would just flood over. It is sad how people simply do not care or possibly do not realize the consequences of their ignorance to the damage they cause.

  3. If they foresee possible flooding, they still attempt control of the Ward Creek to let out as much as they safely can from Ward Lake before the actual storms arrive.

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