If it has been quiet at Lake Wobegon, as Garrison Keillor frequently notes in his “Prairie Home Companion” monologues, it has been especially quiet at Lake Totallygone.
Whereas the residents of Keillor’s fictional community still have their lake, the residents of more than 800 Lake Delhi homes have only a slim stream surrounded by weed-choked mud flats over which they once motored in their fishing and pleasure boats.
Since the dam breached during a Maquoketa River flood nearly two years ago, draining the 400-acre lake, the residents have had little to do other than repair and maintain their increasingly less valuable homes.
“We have a lot of happy hours,” said Tom Houlahan, 70, of Cedar Rapids, whose family has had a weekend home on the lake for about 40 years.
Tom Glanz, 62, of Marion, said he closed his family’s cabin in the fall of 2010 and has not reopened it.
Formerly a regular weekend visitor with his family, Glanz said he comes now only to mow and rake and care for the cabin.
Boating, fishing and water skiing attracted Glanz to Lake Delhi more than a dozen years ago. Now that the lake is gone, Glanz said he pursues those activities elsewhere.
Warren Wortman, 70, a full-time Lake Delhi resident, said his two boats have sat idle since the loss of the lake.
“I used to look forward to weekdays when the lake would be less crowded. Now I look forward to weekends so I can at least see a few people,” said Wortman, whose lakeside home filled with 5 feet of water before the dam burst on July 24, 2010.
The loss of the lake and the hundreds of visitors it attracted each weekend has of course resulted in less spending at businesses in Delhi and Manchester.
Hardest hit, perhaps, is Hartwick Marina, the only marina on the lake, which is in “survival mode until the lake is back,” according to owner Chris Stender.
Dam to be rebuilt
Funding for rebuilding the dam and restoring the lake has been secured, and construction will begin later this year after the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Natural Resources issue required permits.
The Pizza Place at Freddy’s Beach on the north side of the lake, which served as many as 300 pizzas on a good night before the breach, now serves fewer than 100 on a good night, according to longtime employee Kathy Rowray.
“It’s nothing like it used to be, but it will pick up when the lake comes back,” she said.
The loss of business “has been noticeable,” said Paul Heffernen, manager of the Fareway store in Manchester. “We especially notice it on weekends and in categories such as beer, meat, picnic supplies and firewood,” he said.
Land values down
The vanished lake has also depressed the value of lake district property, as reflected in a 38 percent reduction in assessed value, which will in turn yield less property tax revenue for Delaware County and the Maquoketa Valley school district.
In the nearly two years since the dewatering, few Lake Delhi residents have bailed, according to Teresa Turnis, a real estate agent and broker with F&M Iowa Realty in Manchester.
“Most of them are just waiting it out until the lake comes back. They love it out there, and they don’t want to sell at a loss,” Turnis said.
On the flip side, in the weeks since funding was secured for the effort to rebuild the failed dam, Turnis said she has taken many calls from potential buyers of Lake Delhi property.
The loss of the lake has not greatly affected usage at the two formerly lakeside parks operated by the Delaware County Conservation Department.
In fact, Bailey’s Ford Park, at the far upper end of the former lake, set a new usage record with 733 camping units during May and the latter half of April, according to Garlyn Glanz, conservation department director.
Glanz said Bailey’s Ford’s many amenities — which include a trout stream, campgrounds, picnic shelters and a nature center — more than offset the loss of the lake. A dramatic increase in canoe and kayak traffic on the Maquoketa River has also contributed to the park’s increased usage, he said.
The loss of the lake has been felt more at Turtle Creek Park, which provided public access on the south side of the former lake, near its midpoint, Glanz said. Campsite utilization was about 20 percent below normal during the April-May period, he said.
The park’s formerly busy boat ramp — for the time being a landlocked and forlorn slab of concrete overlooking a vast expanse of weeds — symbolizes the lake’s holding-pattern status.