Top 10:Political might swelled around Willow River State Park dam


There's not much left of the structure that had become one of Willow River State Park's most recognizable features.

Water now flows unabated over what remains of the Little Falls Lake dam after it was breached in 2015 amid Department of Natural Resources concerns that it couldn't withstand a heavy flood.

That image is soon to change, however, after a 2017 budget bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker that included $11 million in funding for replacement of Little Falls Lake dam. The development completed the funding needed for the project after $8 million was approved in the state's previous budget.

The Wisconsin Building Commission in October included the Little Falls Lake dam in its list of projects, signaling another major milepost in the project's progression.

"This is great news," former Sen. Sheila Harsdorf said after the building commission's approval. "Obviously this is a costly project, but one that we know is vital to maintaining the interest in Willow River State Park."

Harsdorf, now the state's Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, was on hand with Rep. Shannon Zimmerman in February when Walker visited the state park to announce his support of funding for the project. She later said the Little Falls dam project faced no opposition on its legislative path to the Republican governor's desk.

Willow River State Park Manager Aaron Mason said Dec. 22 that plans are on schedule for the project to be completed by the end of 2019.

He said plans are being completed by an engineering-architectural firm that will then be submitted to the administration department for review. The project will go out to bid, likely in February, with a contractor to be selected in the spring, Mason said.

Barring setbacks, construction is expected to start in June. Mason added that a public meeting will likely be held in advance of construction.

He said plans to address downstream sediment problems in Lake Mallalieu are on the DNR's radar, but remain on hold until after the dam is complete.

Editor's note: This story is part of a series recapping the top stories of 2017. Read the other top stories here