A longtime Creighton area recreational site has succumbed to effects of March flooding.

After holding back Merriman Creek and spring waters for more than 70 years, the dam at the Creighton Rod and Gun Club was compromised by flood waters.

The former fishing lake, located a few miles southwest of Creighton,  just across the border into Antelope County, now sits empty, with just a trickle of water running along the lake bed.

The fish - blue gill, crappie, bass, yellow perch, northern, bullheads - gone, perhaps relocated downstream, wherever the next dam remains intact.

Damage to the earthen dam prompted State of Nebraska officials to advise complete “breaching” of the structure, according to a letter sent to current property owner, Rosalie Nelsen in April.

“You hate to see something like that go,” Nelsen said. “It was so pretty.”

The letter, signed by Tim Gokie, chief of dam safety at the Norfolk field office for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, indicated the dam was “unsafe,” with a large sinkhole above the principal spillway.

“Our department inspected the Rod and Gun Club dam near Creighton on April 9 and found the dam was severely damaged during the March flooding,” Gokie told the News. “The dam was in the process of failing and would have failed this spring without intervention.  The dam was damaged beyond repair, so to reduce the risk of damage to the downstream roadway and downstream property, we recommended to the dam owner that she have someone breach the dam and drain the reservoir.”

“Tim Gokie wanted it done right away - before we had a big rain and it gushed out all at once and took out the bridge and things.” Nelsen said.

Gokie suggested several companies to finish breaching the dam, but Nelsen decided on a local company, Pahl Construction of Bazile Mills.

Kevin Holecek, current president of the Creighton Rod and Gun Club, had previously contacted Pahl to make repairs.

“I wanted Layne to do it, I trust him,” Nelsen said.

After some initial work with a dozer, Pahl’s son, Austin Pahl, the company’s primary excavator operator, went to work, cutting through the dam.

Layne Pahl said, in order to prevent damage downstream, the dam was cut gradually over the course of about a week, in compliance with Gokie’s recommendation. Gokie also instructed a section of the earthen dam be removed, which was accomplished with the sides of the cut being sloped.

The work was completed May 13.

“All the letters say the person who owns the land has primary responsibility for the safe operation and maintenance,” Nelsen said as she looked through a stack of letters from the state.

Through the years, that maintenance has included cutting down trees, controlling thistles and trash removal.

Nelsen said the 2019 lease payment, which had been paid in advance, will be refunded. Status of the Rod and Gun Club’s incorporation and current memberships was not available.

Nelsen’s father-in-law, N. Chris Nelsen, owned the property when the dam was built in 1946.

His son, Francis, and Rosalie Nelsen took ownership in 1987.

See related story - History of Rod and Gun Club