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  • Nathan Depenbrock

The Jim Beam Dam is Being Removed!

The Jim Beam Dam, located at the Old Granddad facility on Hwy 460/ Georgetown Road, has been on the Elkhorn Creek since at least 1935. An exact date or time of construction is not known, but it is known that that dam we built directly next to the original spring, the same spring that was used to make the first "Old Granddad" bourbon for the Frankfort Distilling Company. The dam was thought to have been built to provide water for making bourbon, as in water to cool tanks, etc., and later, to provide water for fire suppression. That fire suppression is why the dam has remained so long.

Since paddling became popular on the Elkhorn in the 1970's, and exploded in the late 1990's, and even more so today, the Jim Beam dam has created not only a inconvenience to get around, but a true danger. The low head dams, also referred to as "Wier Dams", create a perfect hydraulic. To understand this, lets back up one step.

Any time water passes over an obstruction, it creates a void where water moving over and down continue downstream before returning to the surface. As water returns to the surface, some continues downstream, but some reverses to fill in the void created. Depending on the flow and velocity of the water determines how far downstream the water returns to the surface and creates a "boil line". Anything in between the boil line and the obstruction is in what is called a "keeper hole or hydraulic". These are almost impossible to get out of, even with proper training. Nature creates hydraulics on any river, and normally they are nothing to fear, since nature carves edges and sides to the hydraulic to get around or out of. Think of a bolder in the middle of a river water is passing over.

A man made low head dam, or "Weir Dam", creates a perfect hydraulic, where is is river wide and there are no imperfections; same height, same width, etc. These are almost impossible to get out of because of the perfect nature of them. Do to the danger and anxiety coming from the danger, many people fear this part of Elkhorn, including Canoe Kentucky, who has not rented on the stretch since 2016.

At 1:39 PM, on October 8, 2018, a call came in to Frankfort 911 reporting a drowning at the Jim Beam Dam. Matthew Hughes of Lexington did not put in in his kayak that day expecting it to be his last on dry land. But he became at least the third known drowning victim to the dam....CONINUE READING @ Lexington Herald Leader article from October 22, 2018

The push to remove the dam for what was at least the third time came after this tragedy. Local Fire and Rescue, Law Enforcement from both Frankfort and Franklin County, as well as Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, Emergency Management, our local Judge Executive and Magistrates, multiple Jim Beam representatives and Canoe Kentucky owners, representing the paddling interest, all sat down at the Jim Beam facility during the winter of 2018/ 2019 to discuss moving in a direction of dam removal. It was evident it would be a long process and an expensive process, but a necessary process, and Jim Beam was overly accepting and on board with moving the idea forward.

Since that meeting, Jim Beam has invested millions of dollars in to building a new state of the art fire suppression system, working off of city water and large holding tanks, so as making the dam a now useless structure for the facility. It was agreed it could be removed, so engineers at Beam worked with Federal Fish and Wildlife, and a crew was contracted to remove the dam.

The way we understand the dam is removed is by cutting notches in the shape of V's in each side of the dam. This will allow the water level behind the dam to drop. A machine will hen begin cutting the dam out out and piling the rock below in order to drive the machine farther out into the creek. Once all the way across, the machine will reverse bringing all the material back with it. That's pretty much it... can be done in as little as two days, but 5 days are being allowed.

What will is look like once removed? Well, no one knows for sure, but we do know that hazard will be gone! We are told that the footer will remain behind, but it will be submerged. Refuse materials from the dam will be taken off the creek, but a limited amount left behind to create fish habitat. The only effects other than that will be the 1/4 mile long pool above the dam, which will be gone, and who knows what the creek looks like under there! There will likely be a lot of silt that comes out from behind the dam when removed, and it should all flush through in one or two high water events.

The original date for removal was early March 2021. However, for those who have kept track, the water has been high. That is typical for this time of year. We joked with Beam engineers who said that "if it does not come out in early March, we will see the crews in June!" That is when the creek normally levels out and gives us the right conditions.

So, it will come out, and it will come out soon! We will update on our social platforms when a date is set in stone. We do ask that you use caution around the dam, like always, If you have never been on that stretch of creek, make sure someone who has goes with you. During deconstruction, we ask all to STAY AWAY! This is no time for the "INSTAGRAM" photo you want to share. Don't paddle near it, don't hike any trails down, just stay away. Many people have worked many years to get this done, please do not interfere or do anything that could alter the progress. Think of it as the final resting place for at least three individuals, and out of respect you will stay away and allow it to happen. We will post as many videos or pictures of the removal as we can on our social media, but we have been given no permission to be on site either, so they will be limited. Kentucky Afield is working to gain access daily as progress happens, and if the can, they will be providing updates, so we will forward those on to you.

So it s a good day, and a great day when the dam comes out. We look forward to sharing one of the prettiest stretches of creek in Kentucky with everyone. We look forward to renting boats on the "Forks" stretch again. And we look forward to knowing the Elkhorn is a safer place to paddle than it was yesterday. Be safe, be smart and always WEAR YOUR LIFEJACKET!

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