The Lake Delton Disaster and the Fisheries Restoration Project

The Lake Delton/Wisconsin Dells area represents a billion dollar tourist economy in southern Wisconsin’s largest tourist region, largely centered on its crown jewel, Lake Delton. All area businesses depend in part or whole on Lake Delton being full, having always provided vibrant recreational boating, touring and fishing opportunities for visitors and a boon for area and local business activities.

But on June 9, 2008, at approximately 10:00 AM, after what is described as torrential 100-year rains, the lake area crested all known boundaries. Lake Delton’s weakest link, a sandy substructure shoreline, broke. 600 million gallons of water, covering 267 acres, carved its own escape path to the nearby Wisconsin River, emptying the lake in just less than 45 minutes.

Four homes, a 300-foot wide section of Highway A, the livelihood of hundreds of area businesses, the hopes and dreams of every home owner on the lake – and the fish – disappeared. No water. No lake. No fish.

On every level, area community members met and vowed to do what they could to restore Lake Delton, but no one knew just how they were going to do this. Hundreds if not thousands of area businesses were to be affected by the disaster.

No budget existed to deal with such an unlikely natural disaster. Everyone knew something had to be done. Just what and more importantly – how – was the real mystery to be solved.

Ben Hobbins, CEO of IronClads™ Lures and Lake Resources Group had been thinking, since the day of the disaster, of a way to solve this problem. He began considering what he could possibly do to help.

Ben began forming an idea and made a call. Ben called his friend, Dan Small, a nationally recognized Wisconsin outdoor writer and media personality, to ask him to join in developing the idea he had for restoring the fishery of Lake Delton, into a working project.

Dan Small immediately seized the opportunity to develop and lead this project with Ben, and the genesis of the Lake Delton Fisheries Restoration Project was begun.

June 21st, 2008: Ben and Dan provided a press release and outline for the LDFRP project at the Outdoor Writers of America Association Annual Conference in Bismarck, ND. Ben’s Lake Resources-IronClads Soft Bait Brands and Dan Small Outdoors are LDFRP Project Founders, while several visionary Charter Sponsors committed for this OWAA announcement, including

The project’s first Charter Sponsors -Gander Mountain, Associated Bank, the National Freshwater Hall of Fame, the Walker Agency, the Wisconsin DNR, Steve Huber’s Outdoor Frontiers, Culvers Corporation indicated their support for the project.

A few months later, Ben and Dan hosted a nationally announced press conference on Thursday, 28 August 2008, at the site of the breached shoreline of Lake Delton.

With the greening lake bottom looming in the distance, they explained their plan, along with Wisconsin DNR’s Tim Larson and the Village of Lake Delton’s Gordie Priegel, to publicly launch the project and raise public awareness of the efforts to restore Lake Delton’s fishery and to announce the LDFRP website for fund raising.

Lake Delton Restoration Progress

Repairs to the breached highway section and shoreline are underway and expected to be completed by November 2008. Once the repairs are finished, the basin of Lake Delton is expected to fill rapidly, in just 16-20 days.

The Village of Lake Delton has pledged funds for the removal of the terrestrial vegetation that sprang up on the dry lakebed and for the removal of carp from Dell Creek, which currently flows through empty Lake Delton.

The Wisconsin DNR plans to reallocate walleye and northern pike fingerlings from state hatcheries originally destined for other waters to Lake Delton, but there is no money budgeted for restocking other species. The DNR estimates it could cost as much as $200,000 over three or more years to restock the lake with largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish and catfish.

Tim Larson, Wisconsin DNR Fisheries Biologist for Lake Delton, says he is unsure how the cost of such a massive restocking effort would be covered.

In a statement reported in the Wisconsin State Journal’s Monday, September 1, 2008, online edition, Larson says, “The whole fishery restoration will depend on funding. I currently have no DNR funding nor do I expect there will be any. I can make all the plans, but in the end nothing will happen without funding.”

The Lake Delton Fisheries Restoration Project (LDFRP) has stepped in to facilitate the restoration of the Lake Delton fishery by bridging the funding gap.

Ben Hobbins’ idea is to raise the necessary capital investment to rebuild the fishery and supply needed lake bottom structure through donations by public giving campaigns and by local, regional and national fundraising efforts by sporting and fishing clubs, organizations, businesses and corporate donors.

The campaign will rest solely upon the generosity of anglers, boaters, and others who appreciate nature and outdoor recreation.

Support will come from those who feel the need to continue the heritage of Wisconsin outdoor recreation that they and so many others have enjoyed on Lake Delton and around the state of Wisconsin. Fishing plays an integral role on this lake and on all of Wisconsin 15,000 lakes across the state.

Hobbins and Small believe help will come from people from all over the globe. who have experienced and shared the enjoyment of outdoor recreation and who recognize a project where they can make a real difference.

Many of us reading this may never fish the bountiful waters of the Badger state, but understand the value of playing a part in keeping the heritage of the outdoor culture and fishing alive! Our donations today will help keep our outdoor heritage and culture alive for future generations to enjoy.

Please do your part. Support the Lake Delton Fisheries Restoration Project by donating to the project TODAY. Help us restore Wisconsin’s Lake Delton.

Your action today will be something you, your children and your grandchildren will be proud to know you had a hand in restoring and supporting.

Thanks to you all.

Ben Hobbins & Dan Small
LDFRP Founders