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Conservancy confident Glade Run Lake will return

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 1:21 a.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.

Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of articles updating stories covered by the Valley News Dispatch in 2013.

Like busy beavers building a solid dam stick by stick, members of a grassroots group are making steady progress toward restoring Glade Run Lake, its dam and surrounding park.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission drained the 52-acre lake in Middlesex Township in June 2011 because its dam was leaking and presenting a safety hazard downstream. The commission estimates it will take $4.3 million to make repairs.

Area residents began the Glade Run Lake Conservancy to speed that process.

“Collectively, we've put in thousands of hours,” said Siggy Pehel, conservancy president. “It's a team effort. We're bringing in other stakeholders now. We're confident we'll get this done.”

The new stakeholder group that the conservancy is approaching includes large businesses.

“If we have support of large businesses and corporations and get them behind this as regional asset and get them involved with sizeable donations, we can present to the governor and legislators that not only is this a grassroots effort, but also small, midsize and large corporations are interested. We mean business to get this lake restored.”

Pehel said another idea is to sell naming rights.

“We could pursue that and put names on a plaque or a bench or tree or paving bricks,” Pehel said. “As far as naming rights go for the lake, that's always a possibility if they want to write a really big check. I'm sure the Fish and Boat Commission would work with them.

“These Marcellus shale people are coming into this area, always talking about partnering with the community,” Pehel said. “Here's their opportunity.”

The conservancy has been raising money through issuing membership fees ($10 for individuals, $20 per family and $5 for youths,) holding fundraisers, writing grants and persuading politicians to assist in the search for funds.

In its first year, the conservancy garnered 1,100 members and $90,000. At this point, it has 2,000 members and has taken in $170,000, Pehel said.

The money raised is from membership fees and fundraisers including a chili cook-off, 10K race, oldies concert, chocolate sale and, most recently, the sale of necklace pendants embossed with the conservancy's fish logo.

It has applied for two grants to pay for improvements, which are in addition to the $4.3 million dam repair cost.

Pehel said the conservancy applied for a grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove sediment from the lake bed. The conservancy hopes for $500,000 from the DEP, which would be matched with $100,000 worth of in-kind services from a contractor.

The conservancy is seeking a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development to make park improvements, including a walking trail, pavilion and lavatories. To help secure the $55,000 grant, the conservancy is putting up a matching $55,000.

It will know the results of the grant applications by spring.

In addition to the Butler County Commissioners, the Butler County Parks and Recreation Department and the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, eight townships in Allegheny and Butler counties — including the Alle-Kiski Valley communities of Buffalo, Clinton, Jefferson, Indiana and Harmar — have pledged to support the conservancy's efforts. Middlesex Township and Mars Area School District have been heavily involved in the effort.

State politicians have pledged their support and to cooperate to find economic development funds or room in the state budget for the effort. They include Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler; Sen. Don White, R-Indiana; Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango; and state Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler.

Pehel said Glade Run Lake is not just a Middlesex Township attribute.

“It's a regional asset,” Pehel said. “People from all over come and utilize it. It's viewed as a green area important not only to the growing area of Middlesex and Butler County, but also, it affords people from the surrounding region an opportunity to recreate with boating, fishing, walking, bird watching and relaxing.”

The state Fish and Boat Commission, which oversees the lake and others statewide, receives no funding from the state budget and operates exclusively with funds received from the sale of fishing licenses and boating permits.

That's part of the reason why Pehel said it is important to get the dam fixed: It's a revenue generator for the Commission and the surrounding area.

In the past, the lake accounted for $1.6 million worth of state fishing and boating licenses. Pehel said he believes that can increase to $2 million in revenue. He said the Fish and Boat Commission had estimated 16,000 people visited the lake annually. The goal is to increase that to 25,000.

“The lake has not been highly publicized in the past,” Pehel said. “The goal of the conservancy is to publicize the lake since, in these hard economic times, income and salaries for the average Joe have flat-lined. This lets them recreate locally, since some can't afford to go on vacation.”

To promote the lake, the conservancy, with the help of an independent filmmaker who recently moved back to the area, has created a 30-second advertisement, which will be televised locally on cable channels that cater to audiences that may use the lake, including ESPN sports channels, A&E, the History Channel, Family Channel and Animal Planet. Additionally, it will air during previews in area movie theaters.

“We're trying to get the word out there and build public awareness,” Pehel said. “It's a win-win situation for the people of this region, for businesses, for the state, for the local government.”

Devin DeMario, legislative liaison for the state Fish and Boat Commission, said numerous recreational facilities across the state have been successful with efforts similar to the conservancy.

“Most of the other facilities that have been repaired did come available largely because local legislators in area were supportive and a local group was organized and we were able to bring issues to the forefront,” DeMario said.

DeMario said the dam design is pretty much complete, but permits for the work haven't been submitted because there are expiration dates associated with them.

“We don't want to move forward and then have to get extensions, etc.,” she said. “So, there is no timeline until funding has been identified.”

Pehel said he understands they are still swimming against the current.

“We're still a long way from the end game,” Pehel said. “It's been two years already, but I think within five years from now we'll be seeing it back and functioning, maybe even sooner than that. I see this as becoming a reality.”

Maria Guzzo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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