Big Sandy Lake Recreation Area Minnesota.

Well I officially started my camp host job on Thursday, July 31. I had arrived here the weekend before to get the lay of the land and settle in. I got to meet the park rangers the present host and other volunteers working here at the camp. Everyone is super nice I’m sure this will be a pleasure working here for the next month. During the week I helped out with couple cleanup projects, we trim some trees and did a little other work around the park. On Thursday afternoon July 31 the keys were handed over to me and I officially started my duties of checking people in. Richard the current host walked me around and showed me my duties, they are quite simple. The main part of my duty will be welcoming the new campers as they  come in and checking the number of people at each site and making sure the right people are in the right sites.

This will be a super nice hosting job because as you know I enjoy meeting new people. My duties to not include any cleaning of bathrooms or mowing of grass they have outside crews for these jobs. Some of the other volunteers take care of cleaning out fire pits and maintaining some of the grounds. Which I can help with but I’m not required to so.
I have a couple other little duties in the morning I open up the Visitor Center and laundry and at night lock them backup. The Visitor Center is in the old lock house here’s a photo of it.


They took the old lock house and made it into a little museum and it has artifacts from throughout the years of the area. Here’s some photos of the inside of the little museum.


Sandy River dates back to the for trading days in which it connected Lake Superior to the Mississippi River and was a major canoeing route for fur traders. The dam was first built in the late 1800s as a part of developing dams on the headwaters of the Mississippi River, for flood control and releasing water during the dryer summer months for navigation purposes. Sandy Lake is one of six dams that were installed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1800s. They include Winnibigoshish Dam, Leech Lake Dam, Pokegama Dam, Pine River Dam, Sandy Lake Dam and Gull Lake Dam. These dams form large reservoirs to help with spring flooding, and more important the retained water so that during the dry months of summer, water could be released as needed into the Mississippi River. This was done so that water levels were maintained high enough for navigation purposes on the upper Mississippi River. Over the years locks and dams were installed in the Mississippi River making this no longer a high priority.

Today all six facilities have great recreational areas maintained by the US Corps of Engineers with campgrounds and day use facilities. These reservoirs also have numerous State, County, and private facilities making for a great vacation area. Sandy Lake dam was originally built of wood in 1895 and the only one of the six that had a lock allowing steamships to travel through to the Mississippi River. The original wood structure was replaced by concrete dam in 1912 and the lock was last operated in 1956.
Here’s a photo standing on the dam looking upstream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s one looking downstream.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s one from downstream looking up towards the spillways, you can see the lock house in the background.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey still control the water levels of the lake as needed throughout the year. When I first got here half of the spillways were closed and we had some heavy rain, so they open them until today’s level of flow.


In this photo you can see the lock off to the left, the boats would come in and they would close a concrete gates allowing the water level to go up or down as needed. And then they would open the corresponding gate on the other end to let the boat go upstream or downstream as needed.


The park has three boat launches to upstream into the lake and one downstream into the river.


They have a great swimming area which the kids love to enjoy.


And very nice clean and organized campsites. There are 49 family sites, five of which are double sites allowing two trailers and up to two tents on these. There are also eight walk to tent sites and four of these have electricity, two group sites with electricity and one group shelter for day use. All but 13 of these can be reserved ahead of time and they are full almost every weekend of the summer. Most of the people that frequent this park come from an hour or two away. Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin are a little over an hour east of here, and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are about two hours south of the park. The campsites are divided in two sections one on the north side of the dam and the other on the south. The ones on the north side is my favorite these sites are spread out a little more with lots room between each site nestled between the trees. I’m in site 22 on the north side which is the largest and most spacious site in the whole park. Here’s a few photos of my home for the next month.




On the south campground the sites are a little closer together, but there are numerous piers for boats to tie up to, right next to the sites. And this is where all the double sites are located. The swimming beach is also on the south side of the dam so a lot of families like it so that the kids are close to the beach. Cars are not allowed to drive across the dam due to the fact it is quite narrow and would be dangerous with all the pedestrians. So to get from the north or south side campgrounds you have to drive out to the highway and come back in, or walk across the dam.lake

In this past week I’ve met lots of new people and made new friends and I’m sure our paths will cross again. One guy that I met “Jerry” at one of the other volunteers site one night at a campfire. We hit it off so well just sitting by the campfire taking, that he ended up inviting me out fishing on the lake the next day in his boat (how great for me). He is a super nice guy and we have a lot of things in common to talk about. As I told him “he’s my kind of people” super great guy. It was a beautiful day on the lake sunny and calm. I did not take any photos but I got to see parts of the lake that I otherwise would not see just from the shore. There’s lots of beautiful homes and cabins located on the lake, but there’s also lots of on uninhabited areas making for great wildlife habitat. The lake has lots of fish, even though we did not catch many that day. “Thanks again Jerry for the great time and the new friendship” 🙂

Well that’s about it for now, I will have more updates as my time here continues. Wishing you all the best till later, Rick.



  1. Rick, it was great meeting you this weekend!

    Can you forward us some links to volunteer jobs for when we get ready to retire?
    Hopefully not the 7 years it could be!


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