By Mary Beth Kazanski, ESLA Board member
Rugg Pond is a special place for many Elk River Chain of Lakes residents. The 30-acre impoundment on the Rapid River in Kalkaska County was created when a dam was built in 1904 by Ambrose E. Palmer with help from farmers who brought in loads of rocks for the foundation. The dam is named for R.F. Rugg, a prominent area resident at the time. It was established by Kalkaska Power and Light Company and generated electrical power for the Kalkaska area.
In 1950, the plant was sold to Consumer’s Power Co. and three years later Kalkaska County purchased the dam and decommissioned the power plant. The Army Corps of Engineers later condemned the dam.
The 18-mile-long Rapid River is part of the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed. It flows through Rapid River, Cold Springs and, finally, Clearwater Township before emptying into the Torch River, midway between Torch and Skegemog lakes. It is designated as a premier, though not blue ribbon, trout stream by the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources.
Much of the river runs through forested, undeveloped cedar swamp. The State of Michigan acquired a one-mile stretch of river downstream (south) of Rugg Pond known as Seven Bridges. Freedom Park along the river in Clearwater Township is located one mile north of Rapid City.
Local legend says trout-fishing author Ernest Hemingway fished at the Rugg Pond Dam. True or not, MDNR surveys have shown several species of trout live in portions of the river and the DNR recently planted Atlantic salmon, as well.
What the future holds for Rugg Pond is uncertain. As an earthen dam, Rugg Pond is considered at risk by the state. Kalkaska County still owns and manages the dam and must decide its future. The surrounding natural area is treasured by area residents and often used as the backdrop for special event photography. But the impoundment is filling with silt which poses a threat to the downstream river should the dam fail. Discussions are underway to determine appropriate measures.