Reservoir draw-down is first step toward park

Lampson Reservoir will be slowly drained over the next three weeks as part of a joint  plan to eliminate a potential flooding hazard and create a new Ashtabula County park.

The goal is to turn the land into a 92-acre county park with a publicly accessible, fishable area while restoring wetlands to improve water quality and habitat for fish and waterfowl.

The 22-acre reservoir, which once supplied drinking water to the then-village of Jefferson, will be drawn down starting Thursday, Oct. 28.  The earthen dam that now holds back the water is unsafe and potentially hazardous, according to a state safety inspection report, and rebuilding it to modern standards would be very costly to Ashtabula County and its taxpayers, project officials said.

In an attempt to save the pond, restore it and allow complete public access to the park, the Land Conservancy is embarking on an ambitious two-year plan to funnel state and federal funding to the project.  The funding would ensure that it remains a viable public fishing and birding spot for Ashtabula County residents.

“This is a great example of the Land Conservancy’s ability to pull together public funding to help a community not only prevent a popular fishing area from being destroyed, but also to improve its overall productivity while allowing full public access to the community,” said Brett Rodstrom, the Land Conservancy’s eastern field director.  “By working as an intermediate between the community and the regulatory agencies, we were able to broker a deal that accomplishes the goals of the state as well as the local fisherman who enjoy this spot.”

The Land Conservancy has an agreement to purchase the property from the county over the next two years.  When it completes the purchase, the Land Conservancy will turn over the property to the Ashtabula County Metroparks.  The property is currently not open to the public but is used informally by anglers.

The Ashtabula County Sportsmen’s Recreational Land Conservation League and the county each agreed to contribute $40,000 toward the down payment on the property.  The donation was the final act of the conservation league, which disbanded after reaching its goal of helping fund the new park, according to former board member George Csepegi.

“We’re very happy to have been involved in this project,” he said.  “That was the main goal of our group, to provide funds for natural lands in Ashtabula County.  We are very happy that this property will be in the (Ashtabula County) Metroparks system and will be able to be used for fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources determined as far back as 1994 that the 0.5- to 0.75-mile-long earthen dam was in “poor condition.”  The dam, which holds back a reservoir with an average depth of 10 feet, has deteriorated due to erosion, animal burrowing and tree roots.

Project officials said the water levels at the drawn-down reservoir will remain low until the soils can be assessed and site work completed.  They said this will ensure that a safe, environmentally and economically responsible restoration can be done.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the residents of Ashtabula County,” County Commissioner Dan Claypool said.  “Western Reserve Land Conservancy is taking a piece of property that is a liability to the county and turning it into a park that will be available for people to enjoy for generations to come. This is a legacy that I am proud to be a part of.”

Charles Kohli, acting president of the Ashtabula County Metroparks Board of Commissioners said the board “thanks the Western Reserve Land Conservancy for its leadership and organizational abilities in cooperating with our board in the establishment of a future public park at the Lampson Reservoir and surrounding public property.  The Land Conservancy is to be applauded for its energetic and pro-active approach to land conservation for ours and future generations.”

The Land Conservancy, which works to preserve the scenic beauty, rural character and natural resources in northern Ohio, has preserved more than 350 properties and more than 22,000 acres in its 14-county service area.

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