How a community "love affair" with a Pennsylvania lake brought it back from drained death
The summer of 2021 will be historic for a beloved lake in Fulton County.
After eight long years of fundraising and political angling to fix a seeping dam that posed a risk to dozens of downstream homes, Meadow Grounds Lake is a lake again.
Its 204 acres will hold a billion gallons of water once it is totally refilled about three months from now, and the fish community will be built up over the next few years, according to people involved in the rehabilitation project.
"This is a dream come true," Dayton Tweedy, secretary of Friends of Meadow Grounds Lake, told the Public Opinion on Friday at an event celebrating the project's completion.
It has taken about $5.2 million to bring the lake back to life, Tweedy said. The Friends group raised $120,000 and state funding covered the rest.
If not for abundant community support led by the local fundraising organization and the several state politicians who stepped up to help make the project a priority for state funding, the draining ordered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in March 2013 could have been the end of the lake, which is surrounded by about 6,000 acres in State Game Lands 53 southwest of McConnellsburg.
Anthony D'Anna, president of Friends of Meadow Grounds Lake, credited former state Sen. John Eichelberger for pushing the effort to the next level. The Republican lawmaker, who represented the 30th Senatorial District for 12 years, organized a meeting where local people could hear from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Boat Commission about what needed to be done to reopen the lake.
"People were very upset about the lake being drained, very upset, so we knew we needed to do our best effort to get things done," Eichelberger said. "We learned early on that if the community could show they had an interest in getting this done, that it would help set the priority for the project in the state."
G. Warren Elliott, who had previously spent years as a Franklin County commissioner, was on the Fish and Boat Commission when the Meadow Grounds Lake project first started. Even though the lake was not in his district, he cherished the years he spent fishing there and decided he had to help it stand out from dozens of other projects.
"The problem at the time was the list was so long and the commission went chronologically," he told the Public Opinion. "By talking - by getting a community group together and raising some money, it leapfrogged a lot of the other projects that didn't have that local energy that folks here in Fulton County showed."
Enthusiasm didn't wane as the years ticked by. Despite being elected to their roles four years apart - in 2014 and 2018, respectively - Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, and Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, both said the lake rehabilitation effort was brought to their attention almost immediately.
"When you come here you realize why Fulton County has a love affair with Meadow Grounds Lake," Ward said.
The project also benefited from good timing. The draining of the lake coincided with the passage of the Act 89 Transportation Plan, which gave the Fish and Boat Commission revenue from the motorboat fuel tax, according to Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission.
"We now have had $50 million released by Gov. Wolf in the last several years. We're on the verge of completing projects at over 30 dams, investing over $100 million in those projects statewide," he said.
How will the fishing be?
Buckets of minnows poured into the lake on Friday will help build a new ecosystem.
"Fish stocked here at Meadow Grounds Lake will benefit from what we call the 'new lake effect' as nutrients stored in the lake and in the vegetation...release their energy and fuel the aquatic environment for algae, plankton, aquatic insects and fish in a very robust food web," said Bryan Chikotas, Area 7 fisheries manager with the Fish and Boat Commission.
Over time, the commission will stock the lake with more species of fish, strategically to create a self-sustaining fish community. Thousands of young walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch will enter the lake starting this summer; crappies, bluegill, chain pickerel and largemouth bass will be added in the coming years.
For the time being, anglers must release any fish they catch. The Fish and Boat Commission adopted the rule for Meadow Grounds Lake earlier this year to support the development of the ecosystem.
Chikotas asked anglers to have patience as the lake returns to its "former self."
"While we know that many anglers are anxious to once again feel the bite of a trophy largemouth bass or to catch a few walleye and panfish to eat, please understand that nature takes its time."
Always wear a life jacket
Schaeffer, the leader of the Fish and Boat Commission, warned that of all 14 boating fatalities statewide in 2020 and so far in 2021, none of those people were wearing life jackets.
"If there's anything you remember from today, it's please wear your life jacket when you're out enjoying Meadow Grounds Lake this summer and for years to come."
Amber South can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.