Helping a Local Park Reopen After Historic Flooding

Like many Midwest communities, Wahoo, Nebraska experienced damaging floods five years ago. Its cherished Lake Wanahoo Park had to close unsafe areas. Floods washed away sections of the biking and walking trails, and enjoying the entirety of the park was no longer possible.

Portions of the trail needed extensive repairs before it could be safely reopened to the public. The project would take time, collaboration, and successfully securing federal funds. The city, located about 40 miles west of Omaha, needed a consultant that would be in it for the long haul. They selected Olsson to get the job done.  

Years in the making, the park fully reopened to the public in May 2023. Now, thousands of visitors can enjoy the entire 662-acre Lake Wanahoo, including a recreation facility, dam, campsites, trails, and more.  

Connecting a Community

To make that all possible, Olsson provided design and construction oversight to repair sections of the Lake Wanahoo trail system. Our designs enhanced trail stability and addressed severe creek erosion. Restoring trails was critical to maintain the connection to the community.

“This trail is an important part of the community and is a nice, scenic pathway that connects the recreation area and dam to the rest of the city,” said Nate Hoeckelman, who served as the project manager. “When it reopened people were constantly on the trails and enjoying having the amenity back open. It’s a great feeling to help with that.”

Collaboration During Construction

Restoring the trails and creek was not without challenges, Nate said. When construction began, we discovered water from the channel and hillslope had created a soft, unstable ground surface. Our construction administration team provided eyes at the site to quickly address site condition challenges.

“There are some things you can’t plan for or know until construction begins,” Nate said. “Our Olsson team cranked out a new design, so construction of the trail repairs could proceed. I think this is a testament to the importance of collaboration and being nimble to find the right solutions for our clients."

Olsson’s Sean Parks says, “A design isn’t done until construction is complete.”

A senior geotechnical engineer for the project, Sean said the internal Olsson team acted right away. To control the water, Sean modified the design to add more drainage and rock material, which created a stable and safe foundation for construction to continue.

We partnered with the city every step of the way to secure the necessary Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds. Our team made sure construction met FEMA guidelines and timelines. Even with the additional materials for the trail, the project was completed under budget.

"We appreciated the team from Olsson that served Wahoo on this project and their desire to help us find solutions,” said Melissa Harrell, city administrator for the City of Wahoo.

Preventing Floods and Protecting People

Lake Wanahoo Park first opened more than a decade ago and Olsson had the opportunity to engineer the original lake, recreation area, and dam. Most visitors don’t know about the complex designs that now protect the lake from flooding – it’s our job to keep it that way.  

The Lake Wanahoo Dam, located a mile north of Wahoo, is crucial to prevent flooding, improve water quality, and enhance the fish and wildlife habitat. From geotechnical investigations to final design to post-construction observation, our team continues to monitor the dam to make sure it operates at peak efficiency.

“The park offers exciting amenities to the community and visitors, but the dam makes it all possible,” said Sean Parks, who oversees Olsson’s work at the dam. “Its upkeep is crucial to protecting crops, property, and most importantly, the community and visitors.”

At the park, our experts collaborated to provide an array of services: dam designs, water resources, geotechnical, permitting, survey, and construction observation.  

Olsson will continue to serve the Wahoo community as part of the $22 million Wahoo Creek Watershed project.

The Lower Platte North Natural Resources District brought in Olsson to design 10 dam structures in the Wahoo Creek Watershed. Once completed, the project will reduce flood damage, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife and aquatic habitats.  

Most see another dam. We see a community thriving and healthy well into the future.

Nate Hoeckelman
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