A 1.5 mile stretch of smooth, new blacktop now rises, falls, twists and turns as it winds from the opening gate of Clausen Springs around the southern half of the lake to the Clausen Springs Dam. The road was finished last week and is the final piece of the restoration of the park after it was devastated during spring flooding in 2009.
On April 15, 2009, the 55 residents of Kathryn were evacuated as the emergency spillway of the dam began to erode. Kathryn is located on Country Road 21, 17 miles south of Valley City and six miles downstream of Spring Creek, the water way that drains through Clausen Springs Lake and into the Sheyenne River. The road through the park was decimated first as the National Guard raced to reinforce the dam, then on the subsequent two years of rebuilding the spillway, which was finished in late summer, 2011.
Barnes County Park Board member Bobby Koepplin said the county park board had to pitch in 6 percent of the project’s price tag of $348,000, along with a $25,000 grant from the State Game and Fish Department. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made up the difference as the primary funding source for the project.
The legendary campground dates back to 1839, when explorer Joeseph Nicollet’s party camped there. The area was first called “Tampa Oju” (creek of the white birch) by the Yankton, Yanktonais and Sioux tribes.
In 1853, the Lakota tribes, frustrated with the U.S. Government, held a council to discuss the terms of a treaty. Feasting on prairie dogs during the meeting, the Lakota renamed the area “Shanka-ata-kata-pi” (the place where we ate many dogs.)
In 1863, U.S. Army Col. Samuel McPhail gave the first English name to the area, naming it Camp Johnson after an officer in his command. Three Norwegian brothers named Clausen settled the area in 1879 during the region’s first settlement boom.
In 1967, Clausen Springs dam was constructed on Spring Creek, forming the lake that is an attraction to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts every year. The project was a joint venture of the park board, the State Water Commission, State Game and Fish and the State Outdoor Recreation Agency.
Today, Clausen Springs campground is owned by the Barnes County Park Board, and the State Game and Fish Department manages the rest of the park as a wildlife management area.
The park is also located on a spur of the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway and is home to a leg of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600-mile long collection of hiking trails that stretches form Crown Point, New York, to Lake Sakakawea in west central North Dakota.
On Friday, the annual Clausen Springs Open House was held for the park’s campers.
“It’s just to say ‘thank you’ to those who camped with us this last season,” Koepplin said.