SPINK COUNTY, S.D. — Lake Dudley has been a popular fishing spot for generations of Spink County residents, but the publicly owned lake’s access road has been blocked by a private landowner.
Cattle gates now block the small stretch of gravel road that leads to a boating access area managed by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department. The road was previously open for access as recently as Aug. 29.
Watertown-based GFP fisheries biologist Rhett Russell said the previous owner of the land surrounding the access road kept the roadway open to the public. Last year, the property was sold to a different landowner who used the pastures surrounding the lake for cattle grazing.
The cattle could be seen grazing the land on the northwestern side of the lake while access remained open over the summer months.
Russell said the local conservation officer in Spink County is working to form an agreement with the landowner that would allow the public to access the lake, but whether one will be reached remains unknown.
Lake Dudley has been a popular, albeit small, fishing hole that boosts a healthy population of predator fish and perch.
The Bureau of Reclamation was contracted by the state in February 1966 to construct a campground, roadway, game lodge and boat access ramp, according to Huron Daily Plainsman archives. Construction of the roadway providing access to Lake Dudley was then taken over by Spink County, according to a Plainsman article.
The landowner who has closed off access has a water rights permit from the South Dakota Department of Natural Resources to use water from the lake for grazing and irrigation.
The lake is spring fed and adjacent to the Spink County dam on the James River.
Floyd Peterson submitted an application to the state Water Management Board that would allow him to construct a dam below Lake Dudley and use the overflow for irrigation. That was in 1977. The application was deferred until state officials denied the permit at a hearing in 2014 after receiving a letter on May 23, 2013, from the Bureau of Reclamation stating the small dam was constructed anyway, violating several federal regulations.
No supporting documentation was found to support the construction of the small dam that had been located just below the Spink County dam.
Subsequently, there was not sufficient water capacity or overflow on the lake for Peterson to use for irrigation of his land adjacent to the lake.
During the same 2014 hearing, Hitchcock resident Michael Sentell's water rights permit was considered by the board and approved, allowing Sentell to divert water from Lake Dudley only when water was discharged over the primary spillway.
The domestic use of water for livestock was also noted to take precedence over irrigation under the permit.
“However, if either Game, Fish and Park’s water rights for Lake Dudley or for domestic uses are impaired, DENR will take appropriate action to protect these prior rights,” the board minutes state.
While there’s no question that Lake Dudley and a 6-foot impoundment that includes some of the land surrounding the water are publicly owned and proposed for recreational use, such as fishing, the access road is considered a private roadway, Russell said.
Russell said the Lake Dudley Sportsmen’s Club had control of the roadway in the 1960s but later dissolved, and the road was taken over by the private landowners surrounding it.
But GFP’s fishing access map shows that Dudley has publicly developed access to the lake, though no access lease is noted.
A public access trail is also shown on the map that follows the roadway that has been closed off to the public.
An updated atlas of public lands on the GFP’s website shows a roadway named Dudley Drive indicated by a solid black line, the same as the County Road 26.
Spink County Register of Deeds Sharon Jungwirth told Forum News Service Thursday, Oct. 1, that she would need time to sort through printed historic record books to determine who owns the roadway and when the ownership was transferred.
Patience Mosbrucker with the Bureau of Reclamation Dakotas Office could not find any records of the Lake Dudley project from the 1960s, but said that those projects would often be managed by local government agencies.
Mosbrucker said the bureau's real estate branch could not find any records of the roadway or James River project in their archives, nor of any dams in the area owned by the Bureau of Reclamation.