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Richmond Lake turned 75 years old in 2012. Built near Aberdeen during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression of the 1930s, Richmond Lake was one of 657 lakes built in South Dakota by the WPA. The government effort provided paid work to the unemployed while meeting the need for better water storage for local agricultural use. During one of the hottest summers ever recorded in South Dakota, the workers constructed an earthen dam across Foote Creek to capture the flow of Foote and a couple of unnamed tributaries on a 1000-acre parcel set aside for that use. The resulting lake was full by the spring of 1937 and covered about 840 acres with precious water.
The drought was soon over, but Richmond Lake remains as one of the biggest recreational attractions in the area. WPA efforts also planted thousands of trees along the reservoir's shoreline and built a youth camp that is still in use by area youth groups. Other areas were designated as recreational land; a three-unit state park now offers a full complement of recreational activities to visitors.
No lake would be complete without a swimming beach. Richmond Lake has that, along with fishing docks, campground, camping cabins, boat launch, playground and picnic area. There is even a fishing pole check-out for those new to angling to be used at the fishing dock. Two boat launch ramps are located at the east park section near the dam. All types of boating are enjoyed at Richmond lake, including water sports such as water skiing, tubing and jet skiing. Sailing, sail-boarding, canoeing and kayaking are also popular. Some areas along the two arms of the forked reservoir are marked as no-wake areas and in times of high water, the entire reservoir may be designated a no-wake area to protect the shoreline.
Walleye are regularly planted in the lake; northern pike, largemouth bass, perch, crappie, bluegill, catfish and bullheads are also regularly caught. Fish habitat in the way of artificial reefs were added in 2000 to increase the numbers of largemouth bass and panfish. Ice fishing is generally quite productive, making Richmond Lake a year-round attraction. A South Dakota fishing license is needed, and creel limits are enforced.
A third area of the state park on the northern shore of Richmond Lake caters to nature lovers and those who enjoy the out-of-doors. Among the 18,000 trees planted here so long ago by the WPA, miles of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails are marked. A disk golf course encourages locals to try out this relatively new sport. This natural area, called the Forest Drive Unit, offers a year-round warming shelter, cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails.
The lake and parks are under the supervision of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department which is always looking for ways to improve facilities when funds become available. They are assisted by a group of local property owners called the Richmond Lake Association; the association holds clean-up days, monitors water conditions, encourages healthy lake management practices, and sponsors events such as fishing tournaments, boat parades and holiday activities. About 200 lakefront homes along the shoreline and another 25 or so seasonal cottages enjoy the lake in all seasons.
Surprisingly, not too many people outside of the immediate area have discovered Richmond Lake. Most visitors come from Aberdeen, about five miles away, or around Brown County. A few lucky visitors from other areas have discovered the sole resort property on the lake and book rooms at the lovely inn. Others arrange for wedding receptions and family events at the resort restaurant. Accommodations for family reunions and events can also be arranged at the Youth Camp on weeks when there are no campers scheduled. A few bed-and-breakfasts and private rentals round out lodgings near the lake. Aberdeen of course offers several hotels and small motels.
Visitors to northeastern South Dakota will find that Aberdeen has a number of interesting attraction worth a visit. City-owned Wylie Park contains an amusement park geared to young children called Storybook Land. Visitors enjoy riding the miniature train around the park and visiting native animals at the Wylie Park Zoo. The park also includes Lake Minne-Eho, which permits fishing only by those 16 and under, the Land of Oz (the author of the famous book, L. Frank Baum lived in Aberdeen for a time), the Wizards Balloon Ride, Land of Oz carousel, a go-kart track, miniature golf, a full campground, and many other attractions.
The Aberdeen Aquatic Center has swimming pools and a water and splash park. The Aberdeen Area Arts Council coordinates a full schedule of artistic endeavors. Theater performances at the historic 1927 Capitol Theater are produced by the Aberdeen Community Theater group. And Northern State University's three gallery locations in the city allow appreciative patrons to purchase original artwork.
The Dacotah Prairie Museum encourages visitors to explore the geology and natural history of the prairie, enjoy the Hatterscheidt Wildlife Gallery featuring over 40 species of animals mounted and displayed in a full-scale mural, and explore the world's largest collection of independent telephone and telegraph materials in the United States. Visitors will see an ever-changing display of short-time exhibits featuring a variety of subjects. Tours can even be arranged in Aberdeen for groups of ten or more to visit local Hutterite communities to explore the industrious culture of this self-sustaining religious sect. And Aberdeen offers all types of shopping, eating establishments, and evening entertainment to round out the day after an afternoon on Richmond Lake.
Real estate can sometimes be found available on Richmond Lake, both with lake frontage and with lake views. Few rentals are available at the lake itself, but there are cabins for rent at the campground and all types of lodgings nearby. Richmond Lake would love to have you come and celebrate its continued recreational opportunities. Bring the kids, check out a fishing rod at the fishing dock, and cast your lot with the many who are just now discovering all Richmond Lake has to offer.
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