Green Piece: Water runs dry

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First Posted: 10/14/2014

Last week I spent some time at Ricketts Glen State Park and as always, it was beautiful. As I was there I couldn’t help but think about what’s going to happen to Lake Jean next year and how it will affect the park and its inhabitants. In late August the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced their plans to drain the lake in order to perform maintenance on the dam. The construction won’t start until 2015 but the plans have a lot of people concerned.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announced that they have temporarily lifted all fishing regulations in order to reduce the number of fish in the lake. “We want anglers to fish the water and make good use of as many fish as they can,” said Dave Miko, chief of the PFBC Division of Fisheries Management. Fisherman and anglers will have open season on the lake’s trout, crappie, largemouth and small mouth bass, pickerel and bluegill fish populations. The open season will cut down on the costs of the planned fish salvage.

At the end of the open fishing season at Lake Jean there will still be fish left in the lake. This is where the fish salvage comes in. Whatever they can find of the remaining population will be relocated to another body of water. Some water will still remain inside the lake and a stream will continue to flow through the deepest portions. Whatever fish are left behind can survive in these areas of the lake until it is refilled.

A project of this magnitude would not happen unless it absolutely had to. The Lake Jean dam was built in 1950 and while it has been maintained over the years, key parts have deteriorated. Ricketts Glen Park Manager Ben Stone explained that the 14-foot control tower on top of the dam has a crack that’s already four feet below the water line.

“Obviously there’s never a good time to drain the lake, but we’ve got to take advantage now,” Stone said.

While the lake will be closed in 2015 the rest of the park will remain unaffected. Hiking trails, camping and picnic areas will be untouched. The waterfalls will still flow since they will be maintained through a separate floodgate from the lake. The 245-acre lake draws a lot of visitors each year so the construction will inconvenience local business owners.

Despite the drawbacks the integrity of the dam and the safety of park visitors is what’s important. Fixing the dam must be done and the hope is to start in the spring of 2015. Once the repairs are complete the lake will be filled back up and restocked with fish and will be ready for regular use in 2016.