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.
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.
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.