NOTE: This entry was written in JUNE 2008, recording a historical event as it unfolded. It does not represent conditions at Lake Delton today.
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Lake Delton, the 267 acre lake shown on this map ceased to exist on June 9, 2008. This, the crown jewel of the Wisconsin Dells, roared down the Wisconsin River in a matter of hours, leaving behind mud, dead fish and a serious blow to the economy of a tourism-dependent area right at the beginning of the travel season. I’ve posted other flood photos this week but nothing quite as stark as this. The water continues to recede from south central Wisconsin but destruction remains behind in its path.
The dam held but surrounding earthworks strained under tremendous pressure of water rising behind it and eventually over it. A trickle turned into a torrent as it eroded a channel across the isthmus. It grew in intensity until it busted through to form the gorge shown above. Imagine the amount of dirt and rock that must have blasted into the Wisconsin River to create this gap, followed quickly by several hundred million gallons of water.
A portion of Sauk County Highway "A" washed away with the earthworks. Notice the missing portion of the road and you’ll gain an appreciation of the size of the breach that formed.
Anything sitting atop the breach washed downstream along with Lake Delton, including several houses. Rapid erosion undermined these homes. They broke in half and slid into the newly-formed gorge with nothing to support their massive weights any longer. The only silver lining in this very unfortunate incident was that nobody was hurt.
Waterfront property was waterfront no more. Here, a motorboat rested peacefully beneath its protective canopy, suspended above a stranded sandy beach. A pontoon diving deck sat on the ground serving no useful purpose in this strangely changed context.
The remains of Lake Delton left behind an ugly brown scar upon the landscape. Famous water skiing exhibitions were held here for three generations until just a few days ago. Duck tours (amphibious World War II era surplus boat/trucks) plied its waters as part of their regular scenic circuit. Tourists relaxed along its sandy shorelines. Imagine Disney World without Cinderella’s castle, and that would be the Wisconsin Dells without Lake Delton. They will rebuild.
In the meantime gawkers had an opportunity to tour an otherworldly landscape of muck and debris. Tree stumps clung to the the lake bottom, a ghostly forest hidden from view since the lake was first filled decades ago.
You may also want to view my short Youtube video on the subject