This map shows the 15,000 acres of water that would be returned to a near-natural state when the dam obstructions are moved or modified—from Detroit Lakes all the way to Fergus Falls.
Remaining are the Pelican city dam; the Elizabeth private dam; and the 1937 built Buck’s Mill dam.
All totalled, the river restoration project returns a natural flow to about 100 miles of Pelican River waterway.
The large boulders here are an example of the “rock arch rapids” designs that replace conventional dams, and allow free passage of aquatic species.
Pictured is the Fish Lake rapids. Similar designs have replaced Lizzie and Prairie dams; and are also planned for the Pelican Rapids city dam.

Buck’s Mill, Elizabeth, Pelican city remain

Three dams remain in the Pelican River waterway, and the most challenging river restoration projects remain. 

When completed. the river projects and fish passage will have an impact on more than 15,000 acres of water.

With dams at Fish Lake on the Pelican Lake chain; Lake Lizzie and Prairie Lake completed over the last three years. In 2001 and 2004, Dunton Locks near Lake Sallie and Shoreham-Lake Melissa were modified. 

That leaves Pelican Rapids city dam, the privately owned Elizabeth dam, and to the north, the big Bucks Mill dam south of Lake Melissa. 

That was the report at the Prairie Lake Association meeting August 21, from guest speaker Jay Elshaug, former president of the Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District (PGOLID). 

The Pelican River will become one of the first rivers in he entire state to be restored back to its natural state,” said Elshaug. 

More than $800,000 in funding has been administered by PGOLID, which led the way for Fish, Lizzie and Prairie dam modifications. 

The Pelican LID is also administering $25,000 for survey work on the Elizabeth dam. As one of the state’s very few public water dams—located on private property—Elizabeth poses special issues for the DNR. 

Prairie, Lizzie, Fish, Dunston Locks and Shoreham were all replaced with the “rock arch fishway” design, that allows passage of aquatic species—while hydrologically controlling water flow. 

“The boulders are placed with precision,” said Elshaug. 

The Fish Lake project came in $70,000 under budget, which provided seed money for Prairie and Lizzie modifications.

Within days of removing the Fish Lake dam obstruction, fish were already moving freely—and spawning in the new habitat, said Elshaug. 

Since the early 1930s, the water levels on those area lakes were controlled by a concrete structure of three weir levels, which is located in the Pelican River below Fish Lake. This dam was aging and not functioning properly anymore. 

In 2016, PGOLID was awarded a DNR Conservation Partners Legacy grant to partially cover the $364,000 cost of replacing the existing dam with natural rock rapids. 

In 2019 the PGOLID Board agreed to be the fiscal agent for the $419,000 Prairie Lake and Lake Lizzie Dam to Rapids projects. These projects were successfully completed in 2020. 

Also in 2019 the PGOLID Board agreed to be the fiscal ag