The Sutton Dam, located just upstream of Sutton and 101 miles above Charleston, is an imposing structure. It straddles Elk River at a height of 210 feet, with a top length of 1,178 feet. The dam controls a drainage area of 537 square miles, and creates a 1,520-acre lake at summer pool stage. The summer pool depth near the dam is 112 feet.
The Army Corps of Engineers built and operates the dam for purposes of flood control, low-flow augmentation, and recreation. Planning for Sutton Dam was suspended in 1952 because of the Korean War, but was resumed in 1956 when the groundbreaking was held. The completed structure was dedicated by Governor Barron on July 8, 1961. Sutton Dam is made entirely of concrete, thus differing from its nearby neighbor, Burnsville Dam, which is of earthen and concrete composition.
Sutton Dam has tamed the floods that once plagued downstream residents and communities along Elk River, even though it has never reached more than 50 percent of its storage capacity. The lake with its 40 miles of shoreline is popular with fishermen and boaters.
There are three public campgrounds at Sutton Lake, two marinas, and a total of four boat-launching ramps. The 17,184-acre Elk River Wildlife Management Area that surrounds the lake offers hunting for squirrel, turkey, deer, and waterfowl. The Gerald R. Freeman Campground, located on the Holly River arm of the reservoir, is the largest of the three campgrounds, with 158 sites. It is named for a longtime reservoir manager.
In 1980, a high-level water outlet was added to one of Sutton Dam’s five sluice gates, enabling engineers to draw warmer and clearer water from the top of the lake, thus dramatically improving downstream fishing. The colder, more turbid water released from the bottom of the lake had delayed and reduced spawning, inhibited fish growth, and cut into the populations of fish forage such as crayfish and hellgrammites in lower Elk River.
This Article was written by Skip Johnson
Last Revised on November 05, 2010