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Dutch Fork to be refilled starting next fall

| Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

Finally, there was some good news.

Representatives of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, who have been forced to drain several local lakes in recent months, were able to talk about fixing one instead.

The commission held a groundbreaking Monday in Washington County to mark the start of repairs to Dutch Fork Lake.

The 91-acre impoundment in Donegal Township, just west of Claysville, was drained in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan damaged its spillway. It has sat empty since.

The job of repairing the dam will get underway next week, and if all goes according to schedule, it will begin to refill next fall, in time for anglers to use it on opening day of trout season in April 2013.

"We've been waiting for this day for a long time," said John Arway, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission.

He credited local volunteers, namely the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association, with making sure the lake is refilled. The association was instrumental in lobbying local, county, state and federal lawmakers for the needed funding, he said.

"It's been persistence. It's been prayer. And it's been being a pain in the you-know-where," said Donna Riggle, the volunteer credited with being the driving force behind those efforts.

Dutch Fork long offered "no cost, high-benefit, sustainable" recreation, so it will be good to have it back, said another association volunteer, Jim Powell.

That thought was echoed by the assorted public officials at the groundbreaking.

"This is an investment in Southwestern Pennsylvania," said retired state Sen. Barry Stout. "Now, let's get ready for April 2013. And bring your fishing pole."

Anglers who turn out then will find what should be a good fishery, according to the commission.

Mike Depew, a biologist in the commission's area 8 fisheries management office in Somerset, said the plan is to stock adult and fingerling largemouth bass, white crappies and bluegills in the lake the first two years it's open. Fingerling channel catfish will be stocked those two years and beyond, as well.

"Of course, we'll stock it with adult trout, too," Depew said.

Plans are to leave most of the trees that have sprouted in the old lake bed standing, he added. Those nearest the dam will be removed, as will those closest to the lake's boat launch. But the rest will be left to create fish habitat, he said.

"New" lakes, especially those with fertile conditions like at Dutch Fork, typically create ideal habitats for things like zooplankton, which in turn feed fish. That "new lake effect" can last five to 10 years, Arway added.

That should lead to some tremendous crappie fishing, in particular, at Dutch Fork, he said.

"Really, you can't create better habitat than Mother Nature can," Arway said. "It might be a little hard to get around for a while, but I don't think anyone will mind once they start catching 13- and 14-inch crappies."

Which means the wait and the work to get the lake refilled should prove worth it, he said.

"It did pay back," Arway said.

Additional Information:

The project

Details about repairing Dutch Fork Lake:

History: Dutch Fork Lake was created in 1959. That dam had outlived its usefulness when the lake was drained in 2004, Fish and Boat Commission officials said.

Cost: $4.5 million, with the money coming from a state H2O grant.

Timeline: Work to repair Dutch Fork Lake will begin next week and should be complete by May or June 2012. The lake will reopen to fishing in April 2013.

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