Meadow Grounds Lake To Be Emptied
News that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to drain Meadow Grounds Lake for an indefinite period of time spread quickly around the community last week, leaving many shocked about the temporary, perhaps even permanent, loss of the popular recreational spot.
Meadow Grounds Lake has been a staple in the lifes of area fishermen and nature lovers. From proposing to his wife there to taking top honors in several bass tournaments, McConnellsburg resident Charles Harr has made some lasting memories at the lake where he first went night fishing more than 20 years ago.
“The funny thing is the only fish I caught that night was a crappie,” the 36-year-old local angler shared with the “News.” “That was the first and last crappie I would ever catch at Meadow Grounds.”
“The Meadow Grounds holds special memories for me because I have spent so much time there. I know that place like the back of my hand. I would take anyone who wanted to spend a seven-hour day on the lake. Some would fish and some would just enjoy the scenery and wildlife,” Harr stated. “But, the most important thing about fishing at Meadow Grounds was making friends. During the 20 years of fishing there I only kept eight fish – one bass and seven walleyes. I practiced catch and release and picked up trash. It was like our duty. If you saw trash, you took it with you. This was our lake and no one took care of it except the people who loved it. Every trip there turned into a story that I’ll never forget.”
Unfortunately for Harr and many other local residents, making memories at Meadow Grounds Lake may soon be a thing of the past or at least for an indefinite period of time if the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) moves forward with its plans to drain the lake.
In a press release dated February 25, several days after being contacted by the “News” for comment, PFBC press secretary Eric Levis announced that “deficiencies” in the Roaring Run dam at Meadow Grounds Lake have prompted officials to initiate plans to “completely drain” the lake until the dam can be rehabilitated to meet engineering and safety standards.
In December, PFBC and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) engineers inspected the dam and found that ongoing seepage had “become more severe.” “The condition of the dam’s structural integrity necessitates that a complete drawdown of the lake to be performed so that further testing and analysis can be conducted,” said PFBC Deputy Director of Operations Andy Shiels in the announcement.
The drawdown is slated to begin the first week of March, officials said. It is suggested the drawdown may take up to three months to complete, with a water loss of about two feet weekly. During that time frame, the lake will remain open for public use until water levels reach a point where it may be unsafe for fisherman. At that point, officials said signs will be posted alerting anglers of the closing.
“The lake will be drawn down indefinitely until funding can be identified and secured to make the necessary repairs,” press secretary Levis said in the press release. “At this point, the PFBC does not have the money to make the repairs at this facility.”
In the summer of 2010, Levis was quoted by the “News” as saying Meadow Grounds Lake was one of 37 dams in the commonwealth deemed “high-hazard” by DEP. A high-hazard dam is defined as dam that is unable to handle 50 percent of the estimated maximum precipitation an area could receive.
“Of the 37 high-hazard dams, 16 are considered unsafe because of structural issues such as cracks and erosion underneath. These 16 are the commission’s top priority for repairs,” said Levis in 2010, noting Meadow Grounds was not on that list. “As such, we do not have plans in place to fix it.
Levis did not immediately respond to questions posed by the “News,” including the current price tag for repairs. The commission previously estimated the needed repairs at $2.25 million.
Knowing how much funding could be required for the project, Harr said he wanted to know how much the PFBC and the commonwealth are able to contribute. He also questioned whether Ayr Township could provide financial assistance and how taxpayer money is currently being used so community members such as himself could get a better idea on how to raise money.
“We have got to try. That’s all I’m really asking, is to try. I have so many great memories ... but my favorite memory of Meadow Grounds will be helping to save it,” added Harr.
Fellow local angler Clarence “Bushy” Kerlin, also of Mc- Connellsburg, shared many of Harr’s sentiments and questioned why no advance notice was given about the proposed drawdown. “It’s a shame they couldn’t say something about it,” Kerlin said Friday. “Why haven’t they let the people know especially on such short notice until it’s drained.
Kerlin referenced Opossum Lake in Cumberland County where a dam was rebuilt after the local township contributed money and a local group raised additional funds. Leaser Lake located in Lehigh County is also an example of the PFBC receiving local contributions; in this case the county contributed $500,000 to the dam-rebuild project.
“It’s going to boil down to the people intervening and gathering up the money locally,” Kerlin concluded.
As an official notice from the PFBC was not issued until this week, the “News” actually learned of the drawdown of Meadow Grounds Lake from Bedford County resident Bill Harclerode last Tuesday. A member of Trolling Motor Only (TMO) Bass Club, Harclerode said his club runs several tourneys yearly at the 204-acre lake, although he and his son fish there 20 to 25 times per year.
Harclerode said he learned TMO tournament director Paul Taylor was contacted by Harrisburg in mid-February regarding TMO’s applications to hold five tournaments in 2013 at Meadow Grounds. The applications would not be approved due to the draining of the lake, said Harclerode, who added he was shocked and stunned to hear the news.
“I had read that several other lakes in the state had been classified as high-hazard in the Pennsylvania
Outdoors newspaper, but the closest one to our area was Lake Somerset. There was no mention at all about the Meadow Grounds,” Harclerode stated.
An avid fisherman since he was old enough to hold a rod, the 60- year-old Harclerode noted Meadow Grounds Lake is one of his favorite fishing destinations. “It’s like fishing on a wilderness lake in Canada. Pristine waters and lots of wildlife. The scenery in the spring when the mountain laurel is in bloom and again in the fall when the foliage is in color, is simply postcard-perfect,” he said. “
Harclerode worries that with the drawdown about to take place, there might be nothing that concerned residents can do. His family had decided to contact state Rep. Dick Hess to make him aware of the situation. Local residents have also started and are circulating an online petition found at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/185/426/958/save-meadowgrounds-lake.
“I think the key questions that need answered, where public pressure could help, is ascertaining what the exact plans are for the lake, once it is drained,” said Harclerode, who provided the “News” with a February 14 PFBC evaluation of the dam. The document makes no reference to the PFBC applying for funding, timeline of necessary repairs or if repairs are even to be made.
In the meantime, PFBC is moving forward with devising a plan to salvage the fish currently in the lake. While they are hoping to save a large number of fish, which will be relocated, a significant amount will perish, officials said.
“We will collect as many fish as we can through netting and electro fishing, but it is impossible to capture all of them,” Dave Miko, chief of PFBC Division of Fisheries Management, said. “Fish die during any drawdown and salvage effort. Many hide around structures where we simply can’t reach them, and others become buried in the mud when they are slow to exit the lake with the remaining water. Anglers and the general public should expect to see this.”