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Keystone Lake 'remodeling' to simulate natural lake for fish, other habitants

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 9:01 p.m.
Shawn Cole of Vandergrift, a maintenance worker at Keystone State Park in Derry Township works near the boat rental area of the park on Friday, October 26, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Dry banks of Keystone Lake over the last few weeks weren't caused by any natural forces.

The banks, instead, are part of a plan to create new homes for the state park's aquatic life.

Before the recent heavy rain from superstorm Sandy, 7 feet of water was drained from the 78-acre lake in Derry Township to prepare for work in January, said park Manager Kris Baker.

The drawdown will allow workers from Keystone State Park and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to create improved habitats for the lake's insects, crustaceans and fish, he said.

“It will benefit fish at all stages of their life cycle,” Baker said.

The habitats will be added to simulate the bottom of a natural lake.

Keystone Lake was man-made in 1903 by Keystone Coal and Coke Co. to wash coke from the Salem No. 1 and No. 2 mines.

“So many of the lakes in Pennsylvania have no habitat-like features on their bottoms,” Baker said, because the areas were cleared of landscape before being flooded by a dam.

Habitats will include 120 rock rubble humps, 12 spider humps, two post clusters and five post cluster stumps, said Mike Swartz, habitat manager with the Fish and Boat Commission.

Each feature will be installed from Jan. 7-11 in the lake bed using heavy machinery, he said. There are no plans to close any of the available amenities at the park during the improvements.

Baker said draining the water now will allow cold-blooded lake-dwellers to adjust to the water level and prepare for the winter accordingly.

“If we would wait to do the drawdown ... they would be impacted and possibly not survive,” he said.

The water, drained at about 6 inches per day, was released through the dam at McCune Run, near where the lake's deepest point is usually 30 feet.

Rock rubble humps — 1- to 3-ton piles of sandstone rock between 1 foot and 3 feet high — serve to provide nooks and crannies for organisms to escape predators and thrive, Swartz said.

“Your insects, your crustaceans and bait fish use it, and your bigger fish come along and eat them,” he said.

Spider humps are similar but include wooden posts jutting from the center of the rock pile.

“It's a complex habitat that's pretty popular — fish use them like crazy,” Swartz explained.

Post clusters and post cluster stumps mimic tree trunks that would be present in a natural lake. About 50 posts will make up both clusters, positioned at different points in the lake protruding from the water's surface. Those that mimic stumps will remain hidden under the water, Swartz said.

Park officials have been working on habitat improvement for 12 years, Baker said.

The additions are funded by a $6,000 grant from GenOn Energy in Homer City and a $3,000 matching grant from the commission's Cooperative Habitat Improvement Program, said Baker. The lower water level allowed workers at the state park to complete other projects before winter weather arrives — regrading the shoreline near the boat-mooring area; improving the launch for kayaks and canoes;, repairing the retaining wall and walkway near the fishing pier; and completing other shoreline maintenance.

“We're kind of taking advantage of the drawdown because it doesn't happen very often,” Baker said.

Fish biologists will measure the effects that the habitats have on fish populations in Keystone Lake.

A definitive increase in the populations of fish — such as large-mouth bass, tiger muskellunge, northern pike and catfish — at the lake is difficult to determine, Swartz said.

“My thought is that you're going to have more fish and healthier fish, but some argue that you're just concentrating fish,” he said. “If there's more food, there's more cover for them to grow to an old age.”

Anglers interested in dropping their lines near the completed habitats will be able to use a map of the lake marked with each of the lake-bed features, Swartz said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or