Glade Run Lake is frozen over right now, its 50-plus acres of water transformed into a broad, snowy plain set amid the rolling hills of Butler County.
Oddly, though, tree branches are reaching up through the frigid water and breaking the icy surface like gnarled, blackened fingers.
The trees are holdouts from when the man-made fishing lake was completely drained. In 2011, the state’s Fish and Boat Commission decided Glade Run Lake’s 56-year-old spillway was too badly deteriorated to be reliable. Fearing a flood downstream, the agency drained the lake that summer.
But some local Middlesex Township residents weren’t happy about the draining of the lake -- including retired postmaster Siggy Pehel.
“My goal, when I retired, was to go up to Glade Run Lake and take out the fishing lines and fish there," Pehel said. "And then I found out -- ‘What do you mean, they drained the lake?’”
Within two months, Pehel became president of the newly-formed Glade Run Lake Conservancy, and immediately started gathering signatures and collecting donations from local businesses and residents to restore the lake. Over the next eighteen months, Pehel and his group garnered 2,000 signatures and about $300,000 in donations.
Pehel said local, county and state government officials recognized the community’s commitment to its lake, and eventually funded the $3 million spillway repair. In the spring of 2014, the lake was filled once again. Since costs were lower than expected, the Glade Run Lake Conservancy was able to use the money it raised to make improvements to the lake.
“There was an existing fishing jetty at the lake, so our plan was to extend at the end of it and put a deck -- 16 by 32 [feet] -- over the water on six concrete pillars so it could be accessible for people with disabilities, that they could just go and drop a line into ten feet of water and fish right there,” Pehel said.
The conservancy also deepened a shallow section of the lake and used the sediment to build a man-made island that houses an osprey habitat. Later, local Eagle Scouts built several walking bridges and an informational kiosk.
With the lake restored, Pehel said he’s now focused on buying property to expand the surrounding park.
“It’s very important to secure the green space that you already have, but just as important to expand it," Pehel said. "Through development in this area of Middlesex Township, we don’t want to see the spike that happened in Cranberry Township.”
Pehel said he’s got big plans for the 100-acre park -- he’s hoping to more than double its size, add hiking trails, and, eventually, have nearby landowners agree to conservation easements that would prevent any major developments from happening within the local watershed. He said he also wants to add kayak rentals and even host fishing tournaments -- once the fish population is robust enough.
It’s a big to-do list, but Pehel said he was looking for a way to give back in his retirement.
“People have been asking me -- in fact, just this past Christmas, at mass -- ‘So, what are you doing now that the lake is done? What are you doing with your time?’ I says, ‘Well, my feet never stop.'”