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Allegany's aging Red House Dam to get $6 million overhaul

ALLEGANY STATE PARK – Earlier this week John Darr reeled in a few 11-inch trout amid the peace and quiet at Red House Lake.

The tranquility won't last long. Neither will some of the water.

An ambitious $6 million rehabilitation project at the aging Red House Dam – including demolishing and replacing a bridge on the north end of the Allegany State Park lake – will start after July 4, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation confirmed.

In order to complete the work, the water level at the lake – which covers 120 acres and is 22 feet deep in places – will be lowered by about 8 feet. That will expose about 52 acres of lake bed. Many of the fish – the brook trout, bluegill and panfish among other species – will be relocated to Quaker Lake, about 10 miles southwest of Red House.

Lowered lake levels will result in closures to swimming and watercraft. Park officials say other spots in the Red House area – like picnic shelters, athletic fields and trails – will not be affected.

Water levels will be allowed to gradually rise during shoreline and bridge construction.

“The lake is planned to be fully re-watered by spring 2018,” said Thomas Livak, the manager at Allegany State Park.

[PHOTO GALLERY: Allegany's Red House Lake dam gets a makeover]

Darr, a grandfather from Kane, Pa., enjoys the lake from his restored vintage metal rowboat. Motorboats have not been allowed on the lake. But after the project, the lake could open to boats with electric motors of 5.5 horsepower or less for the first time pending a tweak to existing regulations.

“This lake is big enough,” Darr said. “If you catch a wind the right way, it would take me a half a day to get back to the shore.”

The project will last several months, and parks officials say to expect some noticeable disruptions.

When the project is finished, expected sometime in 2018, visitors will see:

• A fortified concrete spillway between the lake and Red House Brook.
• A quarter-mile long earthen embankment widened to include a new road, bike and pedestrian path and some designated fishing nooks.
• A new pre-fabricated arch bridge retaining the historic architectural details of the span that currently exists.

Tom Livak, Allegany State Park manager, looks at the dam from a look-out perch. The Allegany State Park dam rehabilitation work will expose 52 acres of the bottom of Red House Lake this summer. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Built in the late 1920s, the dam created Red House Lake from four streams that feed it: Red House Brook and Beehunter, Stoddard Creek and McIntosh creeks.

“The dam is way overdue for an overhaul,” said Paul Crawford, president and co-founder of the 60-member Friends of Allegany State Park group, which supports the project.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the current configuration of the dam's slopes "are too steep and must be built up to make each slope more gentle."

The dam rehabilitation project will bring the Red House Lake dam up to DEC standards for dam safety, officials said.

The project has drawn scattered grumbling by some park patrons who take issue with disruptions during the popular summer recreation season at Red House and last winter’s removal of more than 800 trees from an earthen embankment.

The trees, many of which were red pine, were cut for a reason: Roots can compromise the integrity of the dam.

That is why new trees will not be replanted in their place on the dam banks. The product of those felled trees will be used as firewood for campers at the park.

Tree stumps on the earthen dam bank at Red House Lake. More than 800 trees were chopped down last year in preparation for this summer's project to improve and rehabilitate the dam at Red House Lake. These stumps must be removed to 6 inches below grade, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Crawford said he sympathizes with the views of park traditionalists and annual visitors to Red House who would like to keep things just so, but the rehabilitation of the dam and enhancements that will come with it are long-term blessings. And, with funding in place, now’s the time.

“You’ve got to strike when the iron is hot,” Crawford said. “If they want to preserve the lake ... this is what has to be done.”

Contractors submitted bids last month. The next step is hiring one, parks officials said.

That's expected sometime over the next several weeks with the draw down of the lake starting on a date after July 4. The lake will be about 8 feet lower for about a month before its level is gradually restored by next spring, parks officials said.

Red House Lake will remain open for swimming and other water recreation from Memorial Day until the lowering of the lake begins.

Once construction starts, all traffic will be rerouted around the lake via Allegany State Park Route 2.

That’s also when work will start to replace the dam’s slide gates. Rock anchors will also be installed below the dam to improve its stability and allow for the existing bridge’s demolition, park officials said.

Construction on the embankment, including flattening its slopes, also will happen at that time.

A state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation sign on the site of Red House Dam details the upcoming project for visitors. (NYSOPRHP)


Crawford sees opportunity in the disruption.

He said the lake’s lowering offers Red House visitors a rare glimpse of lake bed.

The last time the lake was lowered was 17 years ago when park crews removed sediment near tributaries to the lake.

Visitors also can explore areas of the park where they may not usually venture, including the Quaker Lake area, where expanded swimming and water recreation opportunities will be available this summer.

“New traditions may be born,” Crawford said.

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