This year marks the 56th birthday of Fishpond Lake, and the start of more jockeying over who should have the priority for using it.
Let’s make it easy. There’s room for everyone at Fishpond Lake, if everyone will agree to take care of it.
County Judge/Executive Terry Adams said last week that he will have county workers begin closing some of the access points to all-terrain vehicle trails around the lake because of erosion, and the resulting siltation of the lake. Some of the problem comes from riders who don’t stay on established trails, and others from county-built access roads that have no provisions for runoff.
The county will continue to allow access through the original ATV trail entrance at the old tennis courts where Fishpond Branch feeds into the lake, and on a gas-well road located at the west end of KY 3400, near the intersection with US 119. The changes will only affect access points within the lake’s watershed. Riders will still be able to enter and leave the trail in areas outside the lake’s watershed.
We see this as a good compromise between the desires of anglers, campers and environmentalists, who want to see a crystal clear lake, and ATV riders who want to ride through the woods and still have access to the lake.
Some off-road enthusiasts are worried they will lose a place they enjoy riding, but county tourism officials say they have no intention of shutting down ATV trails. In fact, they say they plan to expand ATV trails to connect with those in Pike County.
That’s good, since a large percentage of people in the county own ATVs, and public land available for riding is becoming more and more scarce.
But while ATV riders should have places to enjoy their sport, history has taught us that Fishpond Lake is more fragile than many people imagine. The past 20 years have been the high-water mark for the lake’s care and use. Before that, Fishpond had been allowed to spoil due to lack of regulation on users.
The lake was built on the site of an old coal camp and strip mine that was donated to the county by Beth-Elkhorn Coal Co. In 1963, the state of Kentucky spent more than $324,000 building a dam and creating the lake as part of the state Division of Flood Control and Water Usage Small Lakes Program, and it sat mostly unimproved until May 1969 when a group of students from the Yale University architecture program, using $25,000 in county money and donations from local companies, designed and built a swimming area. The area was complete with changing rooms, a swimming dock, and floating platforms.
In less than a month, the facilities had already been vandalized, and the beach covered in litter. In less than two years, all of what the Yale students built was destroyed, and the lake was deemed too polluted to swim in.
The lake was cleaned up, and in 1975 the county received a $510,000 federal grant to create the park around the lake, though the regulations would not allow the beach and swimming area to be rebuilt. When the work was completed in 1979, a gate was locked and the public was not allowed access to the lake at all. After it reopened, restrooms were destroyed in the 1980s, and even concrete blocks were loaded up by thieves and hauled away.
The restrooms were rebuilt in the late 1980s, but the lake never had a continuous maintenance program until about 2000. A caretaker began living at the lake then, and the county police force was created in 2009 to patrol county parks.
Even those improvements have been tenuous. Dirt from creation of an recreational vehicle park was pushed over a hillside and is washing into the lake on one side. Grass was never sown around docks built at the lake, also allowing erosion of the lakeshore. The Rangers were eliminated two years ago because of budget cuts, and Little Laurel Park, as the area around the lake is known, has gone long stretches without mowing, or regular police patrols.
Fishpond Lake is important to Letcher County as a tourist attraction, and as a recreational park for residents. It must be maintained and regulated to make it a desirable and accessible place for everyone, be it ATV riders, fishermen, campers, runners or bicyclists.
County officials would be derelict in their duties if they did not protect it.