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What happened to Lake Jean?

By Staff | Oct 22, 2015

PHOTO BY JOHN BENDICK/For the Luminary A porcupine cage built as a habitat for fish sits in the center of the dry 240 acre lake bed.

RICKETTS GLEN – At Ricketts Glen-Monday, May 30, 2016 (Memorial Day) – Mark it as the best date for the reopening of Lake Jean at Ricketts Glen StatePark.

Park Manager Ben Stone seemed relaxed and confident when he made the prediction. “I would be happy to have the lake filled before winter, but that would require a very rainy Fall season, and no problems with the work underway to replace the dam control tower.

The 245-acre lake was drained last Spring to replace the control tower after inspectors found a crack in its foundation four feet below the lake level. The tower gives the park ultimate control of the impoundment, to be able to relieve pressure on the dam, if necessary, during high water events and when deficiencies emerge in the barrier.

There has been much speculation as to when the lake would be back. Some were saying November of this year. There was talk of a two-year absence. But Park Manager Stone owns this project; he knows the park, the lake, the watershed, the weather, the progress of the tower replacement project, and his forecast for a Spring 2016 opening is solid.

The planning for this job has been applauded by everyone committed to the park and the outdoors.

A construction worker surveys a concrete base that will support the new dam control tower. Upper left shows the old tower dismantled.

Before the lake was drained, the fish were shocked, unharmed, removed and released in the lake at Francis Slocum State Park in Luzerne County. The fishing was over, but the future of angling was on the minds of the park staff and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Hemlock trees that had to be removed from the park for safety reasons provided the wood for porcupine cages built at the park by staffers and scouts and scattered throughout the lake as fish habitats in preparation for the restocking by the commission. “But it will probably be several years before you will be able to keep the fish you catch,” said Stone. “The regulations will likely be catch and release for about three years before the fish population recovers and you can catch and keep.”

When the draining of the lake was finished, what was left was a small pond and a feeder stream. But that was enough to save the day for Falls Trail hikers.

Engineers built a coffer dam to capture the stream near the construction site and piped the water out of the lake and over the spillway and down the mountain over the falls. This flow, combined with extra water from the many small streams rolling off the mountain, kept intact the signature attraction at Ricketts Glen – hiking the 21-waterfalls trail. And the people came. While there was a 50-per-cent reduction in attendance at the park in the month of August, there were still 25 thousand hikers on the Falls Trail.

Unforeseen by some, but not surprising to the people who work at the park, losing swimming did not stop the weekend crowds from jamming the beach, playing games in the sand and having picnics. The cabins were filled. The concession stand was open. The park was almost as busy as ever every weekend.

The weekdays were quiet, but the solitude was welcomed by hikers searching for that quiet walk in the woods.

Stone added, “Soon, the replacement of the dam control tower will be complete. The gate will be closed, but not completely sealed, allowing just enough water to flow down stream for the falls and the wildlife.”

The lake will begin to awaken. The feeder stream will be held captive.

The many natural springs in the lake will overwhelm the dry belly of the impoundment. The rains will come. The runoff from the vast watershed will make its contribution

Nature will take over and in less than nine-months, the birth of a new Lake Jean?