When the peaking operated Jim Falls redevelopment project was completed in 1988 on the Chippewa River, it was the largest hydro facility in the Midwest in terms of generating capacity. Along with the construction of a new plant, the project included building an adjacent spillway, expanding the size of Old Abe Lake by 60 acres and building a new bridge near the site to reroute a county highway. A 0.5 MW generating unit was installed adjacent to the original dam and spillway to provide a stream flow in the original river channel, enhancing aquatic and fish habitat and improving the recreational value to the public. Other features of the project include: a bird sanctuary, stump fields for fish habitat, a scenic overlook, wildflower trails, canoe portage and trail with landing areas, and a wayside with a boat landing, dock and picnic facilities. The plant is remotely operated from the Wissota hydro plant.
Features of the project include: a small bird sanctuary in the new portion of Old Abe Lake, exposed and submerged stump fields for fish habitat, a scenic overlook, nature/wildflower trails at two locations on the west bank of the river channel, a 1,200-foot canoe portage and trail with landing areas at Old Abe Lake and Lake Wissota, and a wayside with a boat landing, dock and picnic facilities. A special feature of the Jim Falls project is the handicap fishing dock at Highway 178 wayside, about five miles north of the power plant. The dock is wheelchair accessible with railed platforms and benches along its stretch. The railings of the platforms are notched to hold fishing poles securely for hands-free fishing.
During and after the Jim Falls redevelopment, Xcel Energy worked closely with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. As part of the project, the company funded a WDNR study which included the implanting of radio transmitters in 22 sturgeon over a three-year period allowing the WDNR to track them and learn more about their habitats. The company also constructed a 1/4-mile wildflower trail on the west bank of the Chippewa River above the main powerhouse. Plants such as trillium, bloodroot and jack-in-the-pulpit are identified with markers along the trail.
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