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By Yvonne O’Brien, Member

Friends of Eagle Nest Lake and Cimarron Canyon State Parks

Eagle Nest Dam and Lake are located in the Moreno Valley of New Mexico’s highest northern mountains. Settlers for many years dreamed of impounding the Cimarron River surplus, which would also halt periodic disastrous floods downstream. It was only in the early 1900s that this dream became a reality when Frank and Charles Springer, both lawyers and land owners, provided the direction and money to enhance their mining and land interests by building a dam.

In 1907, Frank Springer filed a construction application to the State of New Mexico, which was approved the following year by New Mexico’s Territorial Engineer, Vernon Sullivan. Permit 71 authorized both the construction of a dam and the downstream distribution system. Although Frank now worked in Washington, D.C., nearly all of his money flowed back to New Mexico to pay for the dam and land acquisition, which cost nearly $700,000.

The prestigious dam engineering/ design firm of Bartlett and Ranney of San Antonio, Texas was hired for the job and it assigned Neal Hanson Project Engineer. His first job was to bring in many workers from afar, plus local miners, cowboys, and a large crew from the Taos Pueblo.

Construction finally began in the fall of 1916. First, the old roadway had to be relocated to McAvoy Pass; inlet and outlet tunnels completed; foundation and abutments from the natural hillside prepared.

Unstable rock was removed and a cutoff trench built to anchor the dam. This was done all manually with shovels, picks, sledge hammers and star drills, aided by dynamite charges to break up the rock.

In 1917, a wooden trestle was constructed and a site-built wooden steam-powered crane was assembled atop. A series of ramps and stairs were used to move men and materials to the reach of the crane.

According to current Dam Caretaker, Greg Carlisle, “the “Cyclopean” design was used, where boulders and cement were used to fill the 23,000 cubic volume of the dam. The Hoover Dam was built using this same design.” The interlocking block and arch design uses the head pressure of the dam to keep the structure tight, pressing the load into the sound stone of the abutments. Portland sand and cement had to be brought in from a great distance. Rail service reached half way up Cimarron Canyon to Ute Park, but the last 11 miles was by wagon over primitive road and log bridges.

When filled to spillway, the finished dam was 44-8 feet thick, 124 feet high and impounded 78,800 acre feet of water. Final inspection was made and certification granted on December 9, 1918 by State Engineer James A. French.

In 2002, the Davis family of the CS Ranch sold Eagle Nest Dam and Lake to New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish. Now operated by New Mexico’s State Park’s Division, it boasts a state-of-the-art “green” visitor center where the park’s staff offer educational and recreational programs related to the Dam and Lake. 

Without the Dam, Eagle Nest Lake and Cimarron Canyon State Parks would not have been possible. This enduring legacy is priceless, not only for regional water use, but for the many thousands of persons who come yearly to partake in the many camping, fishing, and hiking opportunities.

After this project, Hanson went on to oversee construction of a 421 foot high dam in Madrid, Spain, which is still in use today. After 1920, Hanson returned to raise his family and farm and ranch on the CS, where he worked for Charlie Springer. He also continued to design irrigation and road projects that are still in operation.

The Dam and Lake might have been the Springer’s greatest contributions to New Mexico, but Frank Springer was also instrumental in the development of many other institutions, including the New Normal School in Las Vegas, now Highlands University; and the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe where he gave the 1918 formal welcoming address at its opening. His brother Charles oversaw the Dam project and remained in the state to farm and ranch on his properties.

The Springer name remains alive as evidenced by the vast CS Ranch, the Town of Springer, and Springer Electric Coop.

Greg Carlisle – New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
and Dam Caretaker

Kirk Davis, Great-grandson of
Frank Springer

Neil Hanson’s daughter,
Ada Marie Hanson Trujillo

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