Last updated: February 19. 2013 10:19PM - 181 Views

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Jim Eckrote believes a decision by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to breach the dam that created Mountain Springs Lake is erasing history.


The dam was constructed more than 100 years ago in Fairmont Township as part of the ice harvesting industry. The 40-acre lake is nestled in the remote wilderness bordering Ricketts Glen State Park and State Game Lands 57, and is owned by the PFBC. In September, the agency determined the dam was insufficient and needed to be breached.


Today, all that remains of the lake is a barren landscape of mud and ancient tree stumps that had long been submerged.


The image was shocking to Eckrote, who resides in Mountain Top but has a cabin in the area.


I was beyond myself, he said. What is the ulterior motive here? There's noting below the dam at risk, it's not a danger and there's just too much history to make this simply disappear.


Eckrote said petitions are being circulated to save the dam, which although it has been breached can still be repaired and the lake subsequently restored.


But that will take money, according to the Fish and Boat Commission, which estimated the repairs costing between $2 million and $4 million.


The agency simply doesn't have the money to repair the dam, said PFBC spokesman Eric Levis. But a lack of funds isn't the only reason why the agency decided to breach the dam and drain the lake.


Age is a factor in that the dam is about 100 years old or twice its design life. Much of the structural rock and concrete are deteriorated. The dam is structurally deficient, Levis said, adding that the lake itself was highly acidic and public access was limited due to its remote location.


Eckrote is hoping the agency doesn't proceed with removing the dam, which would erase any hope of restoring the lake in the future.


I have a feeling they're going to come in with equipment and make it disappear, he said. Then, we don't have a chance.


Walt Dietz, regional outreach and education coordinator for the PFBC's northeast region, said removal of the dam won't happen immediately and the agency is open to suggestions for saving the structure.


Still, age is a factor.


It's so old, I don't know if it is repairable, Dietz said.


Noxen resident Dale Butler lives below the dam and has visited the lake all his life. While he believes the lake and dam didn't pose a danger to anyone because they were so far away, he has mixed emotions about seeing it drained.


It would be nice to keep the lake because of its historic value, Butler said, but from a conservation standpoint, it is a manmade structure that dammed up the headwaters of Bowman's Creek and took away that natural beauty years ago.


It's a double-edged sword, he said. From a historical perspective, it should stay because it's part of our heritage, but from a conservation standpoint it doesn't belong there. It's manmade.


I'm really torn on both sides of the issue.


Dietz said the lake held a minimal fishery because it was so acidic. Scant populations of perch inhabited the lake, he said, but the agency decided not to conduct a fish salvage operation prior to breaching the dam because there wasn't enough fish in the lake and it was impossible to access it with a truck to haul the fish away.


Still, Eckrote said the dam was extremely popular with people familiar with the area. During a public tour of SGL 57 in the fall, Eckrote said there were as many as 40 people photographing the lake to capture how it appeared before the dam was breached.


There's no reason this should disappear. There is so much history connected to this lake, Eckrote said. You can see the railroad tracks that ran through there, the footings form the old icehouses built around the dam. There was a town there with a post office for Mountain Springs at one time. There's a lot of history at stake here.


While the Fish and Boat Commission has decided not to repair the dam, Levis said the agency is willing to talk to other groups and organizations about future plans for the dam and property.


In the meantime, Eckrote said petitions to save the dam will continue to be circulated and sent to the agency along with state legislators in an effort to save what remains.


And while Butler is undecided on what the best course of action is, he admits that he never thought he's see the day that Mountain Springs Lake dried up.


I've been up there a lot during my lifetime and I took it for granted that it would always be there, he said. It's a shame for it not to be there, but do we stand in the way of letting it revert back to its natural state? To me, breaching it is enough. To tear the dam down is too permanent.

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