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A home for lake dwellers

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Pack 20 Scouts Gavin Scott, Mat Semmel, Ben Everett, Collin Green, Shawn Gardner, Braden Gower, Grant Scott, Egan Bellesfield, Dereck Wentz and Jacob Bachert helped build fish habitat structures on May 4. The finished box…
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Pack 20 Scouts Gavin Scott, Mat Semmel, Ben Everett, Collin Green, Shawn Gardner, Braden Gower, Grant Scott, Egan Bellesfield, Dereck Wentz and Jacob Bachert helped build fish habitat structures on May 4. The finished box pictured is for catfish spawning.
Published May 17. 2013 05:03PM

Boy Scout Troop 20, Palmerton, chartered by St. John's Church, Fireline Road, was camping at Stoney Ridge Park in Lower Towamensing Township on May 3-4. After the camping gear was packed on Saturday, the boys with some fathers and grandfathers, planned to work on its newest project.

Jimmy Schneck is scoutmaster.

Greg Gruber, assistant scoutmaster and head of a fish habitat project, came up with the project of adding fish and reptile habitats to Beltzville Lake. When the lake was built the Corps of Engineers clear cut everything so there was not much in the form of structures for the growth and safety of fish.

Although the troop was taken there to fish, Gruber thinks it never met its potential as a fishing site. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is the lead agency for a lake structure program with Benjamin Page as director of the program.

The troop worked with many agencies in addition to Fish and Boat such as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Protection.

A three-year agreement was signed so the project will be ongoing. Gruber said they developed a plan for both fish and reptiles to improve the lake. More structures will be added in the next two years

Fish and Boat has stringent guidelines about what can be put in the lake. Hemlock or popular wood has to be used, so after Hurricane Sandy hemlocks that blew down were harvested and taken to a sawyer, Stevens Sawmill of Brodheadsville, to be made into rough-cut lumber.

Mark Green cut the pieces to size and scouts are building the structures. Cement blocks for weight are added to the wooden structures.

There are turtle basking platforms with holes so turtles can quickly slip into the water if predators are seen. Turtles need sunshine to strengthen their shells. Here buoyancy is needed rather than weight so PVC pipe capped on both ends will be placed underneath.

Catfish spawning boxes are rectangular boxes with an opening on one end. A vertical plank structure provides a safe place for small and large mouth bass to spawn. Bait fish will hide there attracting larger fish that will use the area to reproduce.

Porcupine cribs are built with the cinder blocks and then every other block is removed so it looks like a pyramid.

In the fall trees will be cut so they fall into the lake. They will be cabled to the stump so they do not float away regardless of the weather. The branches provide fish habitat.

"We have 20 tons of stone. Fish and Boat has a pontoon boat. Equipment will load a ton of stone at a time. It will be taken out into the lake and dumped to provide rock piles. This will be located by GPS," said Gruber.

The more wood a structure has the more buoyant it is. Dry wood tends to float so the hemlock is kept under conditions that maintain the moisture content as much as possible because, except for the turtle basking platforms, everything will be underwater.

Insects are attracted to areas that are prime fish habitat and provide food for the fish.

"It's a great process in cooperation," he said.

Dave Arnold, the area's fisheries manager for Fish and Boat, surveyed the lake with netting and electro fishing. The fish are weighed and their health is checked. It will help Fish and Boat determine what is needed for future fish stocking.

Everyone can contribute to the structures. The Corps of Engineers is using money from its budget to buy the stone and block; and will provide equipment operators.

Beltzville State Park gave permission and several thousand dollars from their budget, plus they will contribute manpower.

DCNR is donating money because it is looking for ways to improve the lake habitats.

The structures will be placed in Beltzville at Preachers Camp on June 8, 9:30 a.m.

"That will be the part that is neat," said Gruber.

Fish and Boat has a boat with rollers on the front. Structures will be loaded and the boys will push the boat into the lake. Locations where a structure is placed will be recorded by GPS and recorded on the Fish and Boat website.

Contributions were received from Shea's Hardware, Forest Inn Masonry and Country Junction. Troop 20 is paying a portion of the cost. It did not actively seek funds from individuals or hold fundraisers.

If the cost of manpower is added in, there is a value of tens of thousands of dollars in the project.

It's a community service project for the Boy Scouts and members of other troops can earn hours by helping.

Fish and Boat has designs for the various structures on its website. Gruber said it is difficult to find but "keep looking."

If there are persons who would like to help, they are invited to join the troop at the lake. Much building is being done ahead of time, but some things that would be hard to transport will be built June 8 when they are being placed in the lake at Preacher's Camp.

It became a family project as fathers and grandfathers helped younger scouts with the building projects.

"We are doing it because we feel it is a worthy project," said Schneck.

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