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Moab Historic Happenings August 2003

Popular Ken's Lake Reservoir
Has Served Moab Area Since 1981

by Jeff Richards

Twenty-two years ago, on June 5, 1981, Ken’s Lake was officially dedicated. The $4 million reservoir construction project in upper Spanish Valley, approximately 10 miles southeast of Moab, was completed over a two-year period beginning in 1979.

The project was sponsored by the Grand County Water Conservancy District, using funds borrowed from the Utah Division of Water Resources loan fund. Local voters approved a bond issue in October 1978 by a six-to-one margin, giving the project the go-ahead financially.

Today, the Bureau of Land Management oversees the management of the lake. Although it is classified as a Day Use recreational area by the BLM, there is overnight camping available in an adjacent 31-site campground to the southeast of the lake.

The project had been known as the Mill Creek Dam project prior to its dedication, but during the ceremony, the reservoir was officially named Ken’s Lake (or K.E. McDougald Reservoir) in honor of Ken McDougald, the water conservancy district chairman who had labored for some 15 years to see the project come to fruition.

McDougald, who had also served as the mayor of Moab during the hectic uranium boom years, died just two years after the Ken’s Lake dedication in an plane accident in New Mexico on Nov. 18, 1983.
Excavation work was finished on the 95-foot high dam in December 1980, using approximately 900,000 cubic yards of earth fill. Over the years, the dam has developed a few leaks requiring repairs. A few years ago, the lake was allowed to drain almost completely so that large earth-moving machinery could be used to make structural repairs to the dam. Following that was 2002’s severe drought, which resulted in the lake hardly being filled. In the late spring of 2003, however, the lake reached its highest level in at least five years. Ken’s Lake can hold around 2,750 acre feet of water when full.

The reservoir itself was made possible by diverting Mill Creek water into a 645-foot tunnel which had been started decades earlier by pioneer Horace Sheley. Although Sheley was never able to finish his ambitious project, Mill Creek project construction crews continued boring through the rock until they reached the western side of the sandstone formation. To this day, water from Mill Creek flows through a pipe and trickles down the rocks like a waterfall of sorts until it enters the lake at the southeast corner.

The reservoir was designed to provide irrigation water for some 492 acres of land in Spanish Valley. The upper Spanish Valley area had long been known as Poverty Flats, partly because of its notorious lack of water.

Some of the notable names who participated in the dedication ceremony in 1981 were as follows: Moab Mayor Harold Jacobs; Philip Knight, chairman of the Board of Water Resources; Dan Lawrence, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources; Ray Tibbetts, Grand County Commissioner; Clyde Conover, member of the Board of Water Resources for Southeastern Utah; and Gordon Harmston, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Sam Taylor, publisher of the Times-Independent newspaper, served as the master of ceremonies. The opening prayer was given by Pastor Wayne Hoag of the Moab Christian Center, and the dedicatory prayer was offered by Bishop Don Cook of the LDS Church.

Right from its beginning 22 years ago, Ken’s Lake has seen moderate and consistent recreational use, with anglers, swimmers, picnickers, canoeists, and kayakers sharing the popular spot. There are no water-skiers or personal watercraft users, though — gas powered motors are not allowed on the lake.
The lake is stocked regularly with rainbow trout, which can be fished from shore using marshmallows, salmon eggs, or floating cheese bait. Some anglers fly-fish for brown trout right where the stream enters the lake. Ken’s Lake is also home to populations of largemouth bass, catfish, bluegill, and perch. The Ken’s Lake area is also popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders.

A couple of years ago, the BLM constructed additional facilities, including campsite improvements (picnic tables, tent spots, fire pits, etc.), roads and parking places, signs, and more restrooms. A $10 fee is charged for overnight camping, which is limited to 14 days within a 30-day period. Trash receptacles are available, but there is no running water or electricity. Wood gathering and wood cutting are prohibited. Currently, statewide fire restrictions are in effect, meaning that no open fires are allowed. For more information, contact the Moab BLM office, 259-2100 or visit the website

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