Community to help raise funds to get Colyer Lake Dam fixed

The Colyer Lake community said it would help pull funds together that could be put toward restoration of the dam and spillway that were deemed “highly hazardous” by the state Fish and Boat Commission after a routine inspection late last year.

In March, the commission announced they would completely drain the lake due to deficiencies in the dam’s spillway. Last week, officials from the Fish and Boat Commission announced that they temporarily halted the draining after 17 feet of water was drained since the beginning of April.

Officials said the lake is at a low enough level for the dam to operate properly. But this is only a temporary solution until $6.8 million is funded to completely reconstruct the spillway and repair the dam up to standards.

“We know this lake means a lot to this community. We know people still use the lake in every way possible,” said Fish and Boat Commission Chief Engineer Michele Jacoby. “Do we really have to go down to nothing? For now, we’re at a happy medium.”

At a meeting Thursday night at Penns Valley Area High School, Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway told an audience of about 75 that the department has every intention in saving Colyer Lake, but has “zero dollars” to put toward the construction.

“We really don’t have anything in the bank for Colyer Lake,” Arway said.

Sen. Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, and Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said they will request a chunk of capital funding through the governor’s office, but will need the community’s help.

Benninghoff said if the governor sees the community is working toward matching any potential state money, he should be more inclined to offer a chunk of change.

The local leaders urged the public to write personal handwritten letters to the governor requesting funding for the project as soon as possible in addition to soliciting private funding.

Will Farwell uses the lake for fishing and boating, and said he would do his part to contribute to the maintenance of the lake so he can continue to do his usual outdoor activities without having to drive elsewhere. For Susanna Ritti, she would do the same, as she said her mission is to preserve the ecosystem.

And for Ralph Shope, the lake is a part of who he is.

“I’m a retired schoolteacher. I live on a fixed income, but I could give $500. If I had a million, I’d give it,” said Shope, 76, of Houserville, who goes to the lake nearly every day.

Shope grew up in Potters Mills and has been fishing for 70 years. He said he began fishing on Colyer Lake in 1966 when the it was created.

“It’s such a large part of who I am, and I’m so grateful for the people who are fighting to keep it,” Shope said.

Save Colyer Lake — a community group spearheaded by Centre County President Judge Thomas King Kistler — has already begun looking into the process of legally putting money aside for the repairs. Kistler has already met with the state agencies and local lawmakers about ways to raise that money and is working on the organization side of things.

Ritti, who is helping lead the fundraising effort, said it will be a “one step at a time process” but said with patience and a strong will to save the lake, it will happen.

Arway said the average time to raise that kind of money is about eight years, but he has seen other Pennsylvania communities raise millions within a year or two.

“We’ll work with Colyer Lake residents and get them in touch with other communities who have gone through similar processes,” Arway said.

The group said it would push to raise about half of the total cost of the repairs by private donations, and reach out to other organizations for grants.

In addition, Kistler said small fundraisers such as bake sales or community yard sales can help add to the total.

Once the money is raised, Arway said it would take between two and four years to complete the project and get Colyer Lake back to its former glory.

“We all have an interest in saving Colyer Lake,” Arway said. “We’re doing everything in everyone’s best interest to make sure we don’t lose the lake, but it has to be a collaborative effort.”