A Walk On The Dam
Once Labor Day arrives, I always feel like I have reached the point in the year where my thoughts and efforts shift from summer activities to fall activities. After Labor Day, it becomes time to get through another school year, enjoy football, enjoy the fall season and head towards Halloween and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. On this past Labor Day, I had no special plans. I thought that I would use the holiday as an opportunity to collect my wits and try to organize myself for the approaching season and its activities. So, on Labor Day, I chose to walk the Lake Murray Dam near Lexington, South Carolina for the purpose of having some peace and quiet as well as some time to think. While I did accomplish those objectives, I also found myself marveling at the dam and the lake as well.
Lake Murray covers approximately 50,000 acres. The original purpose of this man-made lake was to provide hydroelectric power. Today, in addition to being a source of power, Lake Murray is a recreational area used for boating and fishing as well as a source of water for the Midlands of South Carolina. However, a man-made lake by its nature requires land in order to create the lake. To secure the needed land, six schools had to be moved along with three churches. There were also nearly 200 graveyards with over 2000 graves that had to be relocated. Although the basin was cleared, many dwellings and buildings and other infrastructure were not moved when the area was allowed to flood to create the lake. Today those structures still lie below the waters of Lake Murray. Sonar images taken in the last 5-10 years show that many of these structures are still standing.
The original Lake Murray Dam was completed in 1930. At that time, the dam was recognized as the world’s largest dam while the lake was the largest man-made lake. Some years ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decided that the original dam did not meet the standards for earthquake safety. A new dam was required. However, the project did not involve doing away with the old dam. Instead, the new dam actually was constructed as a backup dam to the old earthen dam. The current system provides another layer of flood protection for those residing downstream.
The building of the backup dam was completed in 2005 and was for the most part uneventful. The only real “problem” that occurred was the required lowering of the lake to 345 feet in the fall of 2002. Full pool at the lake is normally 360 feet so the drop of 15 feet left lake dwellers looking at some dry land during the construction. Stumps, headstones and other objects that had been covered by the waters of the lake became visible in some areas and water sports became more hazardous due to the creation of some shallow areas that had not been shallow in the past. By the spring of 2004, construction had progressed to the point that lake waters were allowed to begin rising. In June 2005, the backup dam itself was complete and the only remaining item of construction was to widen the road over the old dam. The road serves as a connector between the towns of Lexington and Irmo. Today, the road to Lexington runs on top of the old dam. The opposite lane of travel heading towards Irmo runs down between the two dam structures.
Below are some unbelievable numbers and facts that detail the makeup of the dam.
· 1, 300,000 cubic yards of concrete were used to construct the center section of the dam.
· 4,700,000 cubic yards of rock were required for the center section and the flanking berms.
· 8,000,000 pounds of explosives were needed to blast the rock from the on-site quarry.
· 99,000 tons of coal ash were used as an ingredient in the concrete mix.
· 5,100,000,000 pounds is the weight of the center section of the dam.
While widening the road over the old dam, the South Carolina Department of Transportation also included an eight foot wide exercise path and a bicycle lane. The path begins on the Lexington side at the South Carolina Electric & Gas public beach. There is a recently expanded free parking area on the Lexington side. On the Irmo side, it begins at the public boat launch facility. The parking on the Irmo side does cost a few dollars. The path is 1.7 miles long so if you walk it both ways, it is a 3.4 mile route. Initially, animals were permitted on the dam for walks but this practice was eventually ended due to issues related to cleaning up after the animals. The view from the dam is the lake to one side and the skyline of Columbia to the other side. There are no facilities on the dam so take water, sunscreen, and sunglasses when you go. In recent months, some emergency call boxes have been installed. These call boxes will give those using the pathway a means of contacting emergency services should they be needed. The path itself is in good condition and is level so other than the length that some may not be accustomed to, the walk itself is an easy walk. There are usually always friendly walkers, joggers, runners, and skaters on the path as well. You will not lack for company. It is also a popular night walking spot and as far as I know is safe probably due to the vehicle traffic that is constant on the roadway on the other side of the concrete protective barriers. Sunsets, sunrises, and views of the moon are spectacular.
I set out that day for time to myself. My plan was to organize in my mind all that I needed to be focusing on in the coming months. I did do some of that but what I saw and what I learned about the dam and the lake through my walk and further research was astonishing and amazing. If nothing else, it got me to thinking that if the feat of the dam and the lake could be accomplished then I probably could handle the tasks I needed to in the coming months. Enjoy the pictures!