Goodbye to Mountain Springs Lake

Hiking through an amber forest

Nestled among the forested ridges and deep hollows adjacent to Ricketts Glen State Park and SGL 57, miles from the nearest paved road, Mountain Springs Lake has long been a hidden destination that offered solitude and beauty.  It is the last vestige of the ice making industry that once prospered on the high plateaus.  But all things change, and Mountain Springs Lake will meet the same fate of it’s former sister lake, Ice Dam No. 1.

Beginning this month, Mountain Springs Lake will be drained.  The dam will then be breached.  There are no plans to rebuild the dam.  The lake will become part of our history, and will live only in our memories.

The lake has long been a part of our history and culture, and well-known by those living in the Noxen area.  People would drive their cars or ride their bikes up the old grade to the lake.  The lake was built for the creation of ice.  Ice would freeze on the surface in the winter, and would be cut, harvested, and stored for use in the summer.  The operation that once existed around Mountain Springs was impressive, with conveyors, cutting machines, and buildings for storage and shipping.  It supported a small town.  Other dams were built for ice production, but all were drained, leaving only Mountain Springs Lake.

The long concrete dam that forms the lake has gradually deteriorated.  Water seeps through cracks and the concrete is slowly crumbling.  During the floods, there were often rumors the dam breached.  Maybe surprisingly, the dam held.  But time was never on its side.  The relatively little use the lake received does not justify huge cost to rebuild the dam.  But then again, it was that little use that made it such a special place.

I remember hiking the trails around the lake on a fall afternoon as the smooth waters mirrored the beautiful colors perfectly.  Or hiking in the heat of the summer to enjoy the breeze coming off of the water, as it waters glistened in the sun through the deep forests.  I would hike the trails on the nearby ridges to enjoy views of the lake from cliffs, its placid waters surrounded by rolling green ridges that nearly concealed the lake, as if trying to keep a secret.

This weekend I returned to Mountain Springs for one last hike to enjoy the lake.  Although most of the fall colors were stripped from the trees high in the canopies, there was still plenty of color in the understory.  We began by hiking to sublime Beech Lake.  Afterwards, we followed a trail I hadn’t hiked previously up along The Meadows to a forest road.  It was a beautiful trail.  The yellow and gold birch trees created an amber forest interspersed with hemlocks.

The trail took us to a cliff rim with views over the mountains.  Colors still lingered on some trees as clouds drifted across a deep blue sky.   Down far below was Mountain Springs Lak, sunken in its bed, half its former size.  Bowmans Creek flowed across the muddy plain to feed the receding pool.

Reflections on Bowmans Creek

We hiked down to Bowmans Creek and crossed it via some old railroad tracks that just cleared the flowing water.  The creek traversed a hemlock forest that offered some stunning reflections.  We crossed the creek again and hiked the road to Mountain Springs Lake.  Another group of people were paying their respects as we arrived.  A muddy plain surrounded the pond, with the stumps of ancient trees dotting the surface.  It was hard to imagine those trees were cut over a hundred years ago.

I walked along the crumbling dam and touched the water.  Thick mud surrounded the shore.  I took a picture of the lake as the sun hid behind a cloud against a cobalt sky.

My final picture of Mountain Springs Lake

We returned to the car along the dirt road as the sun began to set behind the mountain.  Along the way we passed some hikers from Maine.

Nature will reclaim what man once created.  The lake bottom will become a meadow with grasses and wildflowers.  Trees will gradually grow and become a forest, returning the lake to what it once was.

But the story and history that Mountain Springs Lake represents is not quite over.  One lake that was used for ice production still remains, beautiful Beech Lake, a gem of SGL 57.  And because it is a natural lake, it will likely never be drained.

Goodbye Mountain Springs Lake, thank you for the memories, beauty, and solitude you have provided to so many.

More pictures.

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9 thoughts on “Goodbye to Mountain Springs Lake

  1. I feel like a Johnny Come Lately to the Mountain Springs Lake issue, having never even heard of the lake till I read Jeff’s article in last weekend’s Advance. We are too much of a drive from the Rickett’s Glen area to make casual hiking up in there practical…and we don’t hunt. But now that I’ve heard of the lake, and visited what’s left of it, and been talking about it, I’ve become aware of a persistent rumor that the decision to destroy the dam was based less on any danger posed by its condition than on local politics. At risk of sounding like an under-informed, idealistic, impractical and reactionary tree-hugging liberal (guilty), I must ask, should the public roll over and play dead as the final act in the destruction of the lake is played out? As residents of the state of Pennsylvania, and taxpayers, does that lake not belong to us? As of Saturday, the dam still stood. But, I remember very well when the residents of Montrose, PA woke up one morning to discover that during the night one of their prized and most historic buildings had been razed. There was much indignation, but short of gathering the rubble and glueing it together, what was done could not be undone. And Susquehanna County being the bastion of Republican conservatism that it is, the folks who’d made the decision to betray the wishes of the county’s residents were voted right back into office at the next election. A sense of the inevitable seems to permeate not just Jeff’s article, regretful as he is, but the comments on this page. But must the destruction of the lake be inevitable? The lake has never been a part of my life, as it has to so many, but if it had, I’d be actively campaigning to save it. Where is the indignation?

  2. I appreciate your comments, but I am unaware of any political reason to remove the dam. The dam is in poor condition. The concrete is crumbling and there are cracks in the dam that seep water. This has been an ongoing issue for some time; in fact, the level of the lake had already been lowered. A breach could be catastrophic, especially for Noxen.

    While it would be ideal to rebuild the dam, the cost is likely too great. I have read the estimates to rebuild the dam to be between 2-6 million dollars.

    It would be nice to see the history of the ice industry better preserved for future generations. One idea is an interpretive trail with signs and kiosks explaining the history of Mountain Springs and showing the locations of different buildings.

      • Lynee, your everywhere. Lets preserve the history by keeping the dam. Save “Mountain Springs Lake (Fairmont Twp)” Like us on Facebook. Sign the Petition. The dam isn’t that bad. It can be saved and Noxen wants it just as bad as the rest of us!

    • According to my Canadian Dictionary of the English Language, “politics” can be defined as “(t)he often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society.” Everything is political.

      The solution to a problem that adequate funding, well used, would have prevented was to drain the lake; certainly, compared to repairing (maintaining?) the dam, it was a cheap option.

      As I said initially, I’m a Johnny Come Lately to the issue of Mountain Springs Lake and its ailing dam. I admit to knowing nothing about the Fish and Boat Commission, how it is funded, or how and where it uses the funding it receives.

      I do know something about politics. If their efforts are already predestined to be futile, the group that has formed to try to save the lake should be told now.

      If the Fish and Boat Commission has information of which the public should be aware, such as a private sale in the offing, it is unconscionable, but not inconceivable, that such information might not be readily available.

    • Thank you for taking the time to post the video. I enjoyed every second of it (especially the fat perch picture). It is a shame to see such a beautiful lake, and piece of our PA heritage lost. Too bad more people didn’t use the lake over the years, or else there may have been more of an emphasis on strengthening or replacing the dam

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