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Grassroots group wants to restore lake

| Saturday, April 6, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Siggy Pehel, president of the Glade Run Lake Conservancy, walks near the former spillway of the 52-acre lake on Sept. 24, 2012. The lake was drained in July 2011.

A grassroots group's commitment and enthusiasm have helped garner the state, county and community support it needs in its ambitious effort to restore the 52-acre Glade Run Lake in Middlesex Township.

“They know it will take a while to do this but they're willing to keep plugging away,” said Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, whose district includes the lake. “Every now and then, you'll see a project in the community that people really get behind and they're willing to do big things and small things. This community and the surrounding communities, too, seem to be really getting behind this project and they want their lake back.

“They're so enthusiastic and it rubs off on me.”

The state Fish & Boat Commission drained Glade Run Lake in June 2011 because its dam was leaking. It is one of 19 “high-hazard” dams managed by the commission.

Since the conservancy's inception 18 months ago, more than 1,500 people have purchased a membership and, with those fees, donations and pledges, the organization has raised more than $114,000.

The conservancy received its nonprofit status in November, which allows the group to solicit corporate donations and receive state funding.

Vulakovich said he plans to talk with other state leaders in the area and work with the Fish and Boat Commission to try to find economic development funds or room in the state budget to repair the dam.

Additionally, the Butler County Parks and Recreation Department has added the lake to its comprehensive plan, which was revised this year.

“If the nonprofit would apply for funding, a lot of times those (funding) organizations are looking at what kind of plan is associated with this,” said Gary L. Pinkerton, department director. “So in the future, as they look for additional funding to redo the lake, they'll be able to say they have the support of the county parks and recreation.”

Restoring the lake means restoring an economic benefit as well, said Jack Cohen, executive director of the Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau.

“About 1.7 million people visited Moraine State Park and Lake Arthur and Glade Run is the same thing. In the past, I'm sure there were hundreds of thousands of people who would go and recreate and just relax at that lake,” he said. “It is just a wonderful addition … and to see it in its present state is just a tragedy.”

Eight townships in Allegheny and Butler counties, including the Alle-Kiski Valley communities of Buffalo, Clinton, Jefferson, Indiana and Harmar, have pledged their support of the conservancy's efforts.

Middlesex Township and Mars Area School District have been heavily involved in the effort. The township pledged $30,000 over three years to help restore the lake, and Mars teachers have incorporated the lake restoration initiative into classroom assignments in which students have created posters and written letters to state leaders about the educational benefits of the lake.

Officials said they've been “pleasantly surprised” by the community involvement in the restoration effort. They attribute the response to the personal connection people have with the site through childhood visits or family day trips.

Last weekend, a Middlesex family planned and hosted a chili cook-off to raise money for the conservancy. The event brought in nearly $11,000.

“We exceeded our expectations,” said Renee Czech Vandenberghe, of Middlesex, who said she organized the event in memory of her father who passed away in October at age 63 after a battle with cancer.

“The last outing that he did before he went into the hospital, he took my kids over to the lake and was giving them the history,” she said. “The lake coming back is quite important for me because that's a big connection (to him).”

Scot Fodi, Middlesex Township manager, said the community support speaks volumes.

“When a civic-oriented community focuses on a mission, they can accomplish anything. And they know it's not a futile attempt,” he said.

The conservancy's efforts are modeled after successful grassroots movements to restore Leaser Lake in Lehigh County and Opossum Lake in Cumberland County, which also had been drained due to hazardous dams.

It took those groups about five years to raise the money needed. The conservancy anticipates a similar timeline for Glade Run.

The conservancy has planned a town hall meeting on April 25 at Mars High School Auditorium to share its vision. Vulakovich and other local leaders are slated to speak prior to a question-and-answer session.

“It's an opportunity to allow them to see what we've done, where we're going and how we're partnering with other people,” said Siggy Pehel, president of the Glade Run Lake Conservancy.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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