We really need to have a talk about Silver Lake.
You see, just this week I’ve read comments concerning it on two different blogs of recent visitors to De Smet. One states that she is going to visit “Silver Lake (which, sadly, is no longer a lake)” and the other remarks, “Silver Lake is now a slough.”
Interesting. You see, I was in De Smet last week too, and this is what I saw at the “former location” of Silver Lake.
And last summer, I took this video at the same location.
I don’t know about you, but that looks an awful lot like a lake to me.
So why the confusion? Why do people think Silver Lake no longer exists, that it is nothing but a slough?
The story goes back to 1923, when extensive ditching was completed, running the entire length of Silver Lake and connecting to a ditch leading to Lake Henry. According to the De Smet News, August 24, 1923, “The ditching will clean up a large tract of land that has been of little use. It will entirely drain Silver Lake, and while it may be a long time before all the land is made tillable, it will turn the wet marsh into hay and pasture land, and the outlay is justified.”
Interestingly enough, early in 1924, it was decided that the drained Silver Lake bed would make an excellent location for a new town dump, and it was used as such for many years.
But at some point in time as the decades passed, the lake refilled with water. It varies from year to year, season to season, its size dependent upon amounts of rainfall, and the current lake is smaller than the Silver Lake of Laura’s day, but there is indeed a lake present. It’s truly a beautiful lake, if you don’t look too closely. (Remember, it was a dump for many years, so you can only imagine what is under all that water… and a careful look along the edge will reveal some of the junk deposited there among the grasses.)
There is a turnoff on Highway 14 between the Ingalls Homestead road and the town of De Smet, with a walking trail through the slough grasses and an interpretive display about the wetlands and the lakes. The westernmost portion of Silver Lake originally lay due east of this display and is therefore the area often photographed by tourists as what used to be Silver Lake.
But the next time you go to De Smet and stop at this display, take a closer look at its map. Clearly marked by a large dot on the map (at the east end of 4th Street) but apparently overlooked by most tourists is the Silver Lake Viewing Area. And it is at this location that the above pictures and video were taken.
So Silver Lake? It is still a lake. It’s surrounded by marsh and wetlands, signs warn of sewage waste, and there is no good public viewing access.
But it is a lake. So please… let’s stop saying it’s not.