Crowders Mountain pulls the plug

Crowders Lake
Tyler Gilkerson, age 12, from Shelby is reflected in the lake at Crowders Mountain State Park on Sunday July 20, 2008. The next day the lake was closed to the public as work began to drain the man-made lake in order to make much needed repairs to the drain pipe that runs through the dam. Park rangers estimate that the repairs will keep the lake closed for two months.

Crowders Mountain State Park is pulling the plug on the nine acre, man-made lake that sits between the park’s visitor center and picnic areas. Well, not literally--the actually process is a little more involved.

The lake area and the roughly nine-tenths of a mile trail circling it were closed to the public on Monday July 21 when work began on a project to repair the aging drain pipe. The work is being contracted out by the park to a private company, and according to park staff should keep the lake area closed for roughly two months.

Workers Monday laid a 10 inch pipe from the bottom of the lake running across the top of the dam and down to the creek below. The pipe works as a siphon; a gas-powered pump was used to get water flowing initially, but gravity is taking it from there.

According to park ranger Glen George, the 10 inch pipe will drain the lake at a rate of about a foot per day, barring any heavy rains that may slow the process.

With the lake filling with sediment and the drain pipe rusting and clogged, the park has talked been repairing the drain for several years. Though the current drought conditions have kept the lake level low as of late, concerns were raised some four years ago when heavy storms caused the lake to flood.

Shortly thereafter the park inspected the drain using remote cameras. An attempt was made to dislodge debris clogging the pipe with high pressure water from a pump truck, but the effort proved unsuccessfull.

Budget issues prevented the park from taking any further action until now, but park staff expect the work underway now to remedy the problem for some time.

The drain consists of two corrugated metal pipes; a horizontal 12” pipe leading through the base of the earthen dam and a vertical pipe connecting this pipe to the surface of the lake on the front of the dam. Workers will excavate around the vertical pipe and replace it completely with a new one.

With the vertical pipe removed, workers will drive a smooth plastic liner through the horizontal pipe—a less costly measure than excavating the dam to replace this pipe. According to park ranger Daniel Tenney, the liner will decrease the diameter of the pipe, but will allow the water to flow much more smoothly while being less susceptible to clogs.

With the draining of the lake some wildlife will inevitably be harmed, but park rangers are looking to the bright side. The lake has long been plagued by invasive exotic species, and this project could offer clean slate where native species will be able to flourish once again in the absence of the invasives.

Check back here in coming weeks for updates on the repairs and a deeper investigation into the impact it will have on wildlife and the environment.

Right: A sign is seen at the intersection of the Fern Nature Trail and the Lake Trail at Crowders Mountain State Park on Thursday July 24, 2008.

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