When you walk along the bottom of Green Lake in Orchard Park, it's hard to imagine fish swimming there again.
But water will be returned to the 20-acre lake by the end of next month, and with it, fish, which had problems thriving because the lake was too shallow and did not provide the proper habitat.
Dredging over the summer removed 118,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment from the bottom at a rate of 500 dump truck loads a day at its peak. As a result the depth of the lake will increase by 10 feet in some places. It will be healthier, and fish will have more room to propagate.
Smaller feeder fish, like fathead minnows, golden shiners and crayfish, will be added first, and they will have new places to hang out along the bottom of the lake, thanks to an Orchard Park High School student. Game fish, like smallmouth bass, yellow perch and crappie, would be added in the spring.
Thomas DiSimone and members of Boy Scout Troop 285 spent about 160 hours over the summer and fall creating new habitat for the fish.
"It was kind of strange. It was kind of cool as well, being able to walk on the lake, because nobody has walked on Green Lake since like, 100 years," he said.
Harry Yates constructed the lake by building an earthen dam across a tributary to Smokes Creek on his land in 1912 so he could harvest ice. He donated the lake and park around it to the Village of Orchard Park in 1942, and the village donated it to the Town of Orchard Park in 1963, said Town Engineer Wayne Bieler.
DiSimone and other Scouts used donated cinder blocks and cement blocks as well as tree limbs and logs, and placed them strategically around the lake where the depth will be about 8 feet and the habitat will be in the dark, so people won't be able to see them from shore, he said.
"They're kind of like a condo kind of shape, with a slanted housing area where fish can lay their eggs," Thomas said. "So feeder fish can lay eggs and thrive."
Thomas, who is a senior, designed the project under the guidance of town consultant Dave Adrian, president of Aqua Tech Environmental, and carried it out as one of the requirements to earn Eagle Scout. While he plans to go into accounting, Thomas said he cares about the environment and the community in general.
"If we're able to help the fish so it creates opportunities for kids to fish, it would be better for the community," he said.
This is the first time the lake has been fully dredged. The $4.3 million project began last year with the draining of the lake, and also includes reconstruction of the concrete spillway, installation of new pedestrian bridges and shoring up the dam. Large rocks have been placed along the bottom to dissipate energy, and hopefully reduce the buildup of sediment.
"So much of the lake was 4 feet and less," Adrian said. "During the summer time period there was no area where the fish could go to get out of the heat."
He said the fish didn't thrive, and they were reproducing at a low rate, in part because the lake was filled with vegetation. With the larger volume of water, it will be less likely light can penetrate to the bottom of the lake, reducing the amount of vegetation and creating more places for the fish to go.
Much of the lake will be at least 8 feet deep, and it will be about 26 feet at the deepest part.
"It's an amazing, amazing difference," Adrian said.