After more than four years in dry-dock, Speedwell Forge Lake began filling up Tuesday.
Engineers for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission dropped the first stop logs in place in the newly constructed dam. That began backing up Hammer Creek.
Canoeists and kayakers may be paddling around a modest body of water by the weekend, as depth in the lake reaches about 3 feet.
The lake is expected to be completely filled by late spring, said Eric Levis, Fish and Boat Commission spokesman.
But public fishing will take a little longer. Although game fish will be reintroduced beginning this summer, they won’t grow to fishable size until the summer of 2017. Catch-and-release regulations will be in place indefinitely.
But thousands of Lancaster County residents who formerly used the lake have gotten used to waiting to see the lake become a lake again.
The 106-acre impoundment, opened in 1966, was abruptly drained in late 2011 after water swollen by Tropical Storm Lee caused a surge that damaged the 830-foot-long dam and spillway.
At first, the Fish and Boat Commission said they did not have the money to repair the dam and the lake north of Lititz would be closed indefinitely.
But a grassroots effort sprung up.
Enlisting the aid of public officials and legislators, money was raised and the commission made repairing the lake a priority.
Repairs cost $6.4 million.
Late Tuesday morning, workers on top of the concrete and earthen dam began lowering several stop logs into an opening called the control tower.
The lake will be allowed to increase in depth about 1 to 3 feet a week, until full. Engineers will make sure the dam is handling the pressure being built up behind it.
“Nobody’s ever happy when we have to drain a facility for multiple years like Speedwell,” Levis said. “The upside is we have a state-of-the-art facility now. This lake was prepared pretty quickly compared to other lakes.”
Once the lake is filled, the next order of business is restoring the fishery in a lake that has been virtually dry for four years.
Some 1,900 fingerling largemouth bass will be stocked this summer, along with 3,200 channel catfish, 5,300 brown bullhead catfish, 5,300 white crappie and 10,600 golden shiners that will serve as forage fish for the bass.
Some 10,600 fingerling bluegill will follow in 2017, after the bass are large enough that the bluegill can’t eat them.
The stocking plan includes subsequent releases of all species of fish in the years ahead.
Milt Lauch, of the Save Speedwell group, has long been looking forward to standing water again outside the windows of his home overlooking the lake.
“It’s still a great view of wetlands but it will be great to see a lake again,” he said. “I have a kayak, I’ll probably paddle around soon and see what it looks like as it fills up.”