MIDDLESEX TWP — Smiles, thank-yous and a huge sigh of relief were the order of the bright, sunny day at Glade Run Lake on Wednesday.
Siggy Pehel, president of the Glade Run Lake Conservancy, used giant gold scissors to cut the ribbon that signified the official reopening of the 52-acre lake.
About 150 people attended the event.
Glade Run Lake was drained in 2011 after its dam was designated as faulty. A conservancy comprised of concerned and disappointed residents soon formed to begin fundraising the $4 million needed to have the dam replaced.
The hard work of Pehel and 10 board members was rewarded under the noonday sun on Wednesday as a pair of kayakers slipped through the sparkling waters of the refilled lake.
Among the speakers was former Gov. Tom Corbett, who included $2 million in his 2012 budget to replace the dam.
Corbett told the crowd that while he “signed some papers” back then, it was the indefatigable work of the conservancy and community that accomplished the goal of refilling the lake.
“It allows us to look to our future,” Corbett said. “Now you know your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to enjoy this lake.”
The former governor, a Western Pennsylvania native who lives 30 minutes from Glade Run Lake, plans to bring his young grandson for a fishing expedition in the near future.
“So far he's a city boy, but we are going to change that a little,” Corbett said.
Many officials who spoke poked fun at Pehel's direct communication style in asking for funds to replace the dam. Among them was state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-38th, whose constituency included Middlesex Township when the lake was drained.
Vulakovich recalled getting elected and going about the business of serving as a state senator. “Then a person named Siggy came to see me,” he recalled to the delight of the crowd.
Vulakovich, who garnered the support of two other state senators to pressure Corbett to fund the repairs, said every group attempting to facilitate change “needs a pain in the neck” like Pehel who will lead the charge.
Vulakovich said he had decided to get on board with the lake repair project when he saw a photograph of a young boy carrying a backpack who stood looking forlornly into the dry lake bed.
“That picture was worth a million words,” Vulakovich said as he clapped the shoulder of 14-year-old Evan Kremer, who was the boy in the picture used on conservancy pamphlets.
“I thought 'build it and they will come,'” Vulakovich said, “and build it we did.”
The senator said the ribbon cutting had a special meaning for him.
“It's one of my proudest accomplishments that I was able to be a part of this,” Vulakovich said. “I will never forget what all of us did here today.”
State Sen. Don White, R-41st, admitted he thought the project to reopen the lake “was a big mountain to climb” when he agreed to jump on board.
White reminded everyone that a gas tax paid for the $2 million contributed to the Glade Run Lake project by the state Fish and Boat Commission.
He also referred to Pehel's singular vision to have the dam replaced and the lake reopened at all costs.
“I'm glad to say I finally got him off my back,” White said as Pehel and the conservancy board members smiled.
John Arway, the executive director of the state Fish and Boat Commission, said the group deemed 18 dams dangerous, and officials had to prioritize regarding which would be replaced.
“It was pretty clear this (lake) is a popular one in Western Pennsylvania,” Arway said. “We're all connected to Glade Run Lake now because of these collective efforts.”
He also asked the angling public to be patient with the lake as the trees that grew during its dormancy remain protruding above the surface.
“I know they're a challenge to fishermen,” Arway said, “but look at them as an opportunity because they provide really great fish habitat.”
Conservancy board member T. Lyle Ferderber, who served as event emcee, said the return of the lake will also mean an economic bump for the farmers, restaurant and gas station owners and other businesses in the area.
“We think this is a good economic driver for the next 65 years,” he said.
Ferderber recalled the lake's closing, when a handful of people took it upon themselves to try to form a group to raise funds for the dam replacement.
Ferderber said he met a small group of residents for lunch to discuss the issue, and among them was Pehel.
“Out of that rich milieu of people, the cream rose to the top,” he said of Pehel. “He has worked morning, noon and night and on vacation to get the lake reopened.”
Finally it was Pehel's turn to address the crowd on Wednesday.
“It's a great day at the lake, is it not?” a beaming Pehel said.
He insisted that the conservancy, community, elected officials and others were the ones who got the lake to return, and not himself alone.
Pehel said because the costs to rebuild the dam and spillway came in under budget, the conservancy was able to undertake improvement projects on the lake property.
“Wounded warriors can now drop a line off this deck into 10 feet of water,” Pehel said of veterans and other anglers who use wheelchairs.
He then brought his 10-person board of directors to the podium one by one, and talked a little about each person's strengths during their time with the conservancy.
“These are the people who literally put their blood, sweat and tears into this project,” Pehel said.
At a luncheon after the ribbon cutting at the Treesdale Country Club, county commissioner and Adams Township resident Kim Geyer summed up the thoughts of all in attendance at the official reopening of Glade Run Lake.
“This is a day of thanksgiving and a day of celebration,” Geyer said, “It's a great day in Butler County and an even greater day in Middlesex Township.”