History of Sand and Gravel Pits in Cass County

Produced by William Moak for Environmental Geology of Omaha seminar, 12/99

A drive across northern Cass County or examination of the appropriate topographic map will reveal a landscape pockmarked by small lakes and ponds. These bodies of water are manmade and attest to the mining for sand and gravel along the Platte river. In most cases, the mining operation is long gone, but the evidence of their existence is obvious. This project looked at half a dozen of these manmade ponds east of the old Merrit Beach along Highway 75 in Plattsmouth.

Sand and gravel were deposited along the Platte River during the Tertiary and Quaternary Periods - the most recent 66 million years of our planet's history. As glaciers advanced and retreated across much of the North American continent, rivers such as the Platte transported and deposited some of the resulting glacial till.. [Map depicting occurrence of sand and gravel in Nebraska] Today, sand and gravel mining is a big industry in Cass County and indeed in most of Nebraska--all but three of Nebraska's ninety-three counties have at least one sand and gravel pit. [Map depicting location of active sand and gravel pits in Nebraska]; [Map depicting location of sand and gravel pits in Cass County, NE]. Between 1900 and 1993, Nebraska hosted 3228 separate pits covering nearly 40,000 acres. In 1986 alone, over 9600 short tons of sand and gravel with a value of nearly $24 million were sold or used by producers in Nebraska (Burchett & Eversol, 1993).

Because they are located so near the Platte River, many of these pits flood as the operators encounter the water table rising up to (or falling away from) the river. The water in these manmade ponds is sustained by the water table and the surface level of the water will rise and fall with the water table. Most of these ponds contain fish and other aquatic life that have been ìdepositedî by the river during large flooding events such as the big flood in 1993. Many of the abandoned pits have been reclaimed for recreational and residential use. The former Merrit's Beach in Plattsmouth was located on an old sand and gravel pit. Many of the lakeside residences in the Omaha areaóHawaiian Village; Chris Lake and Hanson Lake; and Cedar Creek for example, occupy old sand and gravel pits. Twenty four pits covering 1163 acres, with 716 acres reclaimed developed in Cass County between 1900 and 1993. In 1993 active quarries covered 59.8 acres (Burchett & Eversol, 1993).

The Four Lakes Preserve just east of Merritís Beach provides an example of reclaimed pits. These pits were probably actively mined in the 1920s. Today, the former sand and gravel pits provide a refuge for wildlife as well as recreation and ambiance for a small development of lakeside homes. [Picture of abandoned sand and gravel pit] About a half mile south of Four Lakes Preserve, Lyman-Richey Sand & Gravel Company operates the Oreapolis Pit No 8. This pit was started in the late 1970s. The operators use a cutterhead on a long boom mounted to a dredge to dig into the surface. The loosened material is sucked up onto the dredge and conveyed back to the shore where it is sorted and stored for transport. The flooded pit is about 40 feet deep at which depth the operators encounter solid rock. Recently, the operators encountered what they believe is a former sand and gravel pit that had been filled back in. Therefore, not all abandoned pits become lakes. (View of Pit No. 8)

A sequence of aerial photographs from the Conservation and Survey Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (University of Nebraska at Lincoln) clearly shows how sand and gravel mining can alter the landscape from farm field to lake. A 1971 aerial photograph depicts Holman Lake where there were only farm fields thirty years earlier [1941 aerial photograph] Evidence of the active sand and gravel operation responsible for the transition is provided by a 1949 aerial photograph. In the photo, you can see the long conveyor stretching from the dredge to the shore across the emerging Holman Lake. A 1955 aerial photo indicates that the pit was abandoned by that time. Today, several houses line the shore of Holman Lake. [Picture of Holman Lake today]

References:

Burchett, R. R., & D. A. Eversoll (1994). Nebraska mineral operations review, 1993. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Conservation and Survey Division, Nebraska Geological Survey.

Burchett, R. R., & D. A. Eversoll (1974). Inventory of mining operations in Nebraska (Resource Report No. 7). Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Conservation and Survey Division.