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Whipple Dam park to reopen Friday

Whipple Dam State Park is set to reopen tomorrow, Friday, Jan. 22 after being closed for nearly a year to conduct routine maintenance and improvements.

The 22-acre Whipple Lake was drained and dredged to remove sediment, a new handicapped accessible pier and boat ramp were constructed, all paved surfaces were re-paved, and various structural improvements were made to the dam.

The project was originally set to be finished by the end of last summer, but restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic delayed work for three months. State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) environmental education specialist Paul Fagley said that many locals depend on the park as a reliable location for outdoor activities.

“We always laugh because for people coming over the mountain from State College it was like the world ended at Whipple Dam,” said Fagley.

The park was closed to visitors last February as preparations began to drain the lake, but work was shut down in March when Gov. Tom Wolf announced restrictions to construction work. Work was able to resume around early June when those restrictions were lifted.

Fagley says that the construction was done to maintain the ecological health of the park as well as build new additions for accessibility and safety. The primary task was to remove sediment material that settled on the bottom of Whipple Lake. Fagley says that soil, rocks and other natural materials settle naturally on the lake bed over time, and removing that sediment is a routine part of maintenance.

“It tends to settle out, and build up to make the lake shallower. If you let it go, eventually you’ll get a swamp, and even later you’ll just have dry land,” said Fagley, “With enough time even Raystown Lake would fill up.”

Contractors removed 40,000 cubic yards of sediment from the bottom of the lake. For context, if you took all of that sediment and formed it into 3-foot by 3-foot cubes, the amount of sediment removed from the lake would cover an entire football field in a pile rising 22 feet high.

All of that sediment was then dumped into dry sediment ponds that were dug out during a failed dredging attempt in the mid-1980s. According to Fagley, the sediment was going to be removed without draining the lake by using a vacuum barge. The barge would move the sediment from the lake bottom into a series of nearby trench ponds that were dug out to hold the sediment. The filters meant to capture the sediment failed however, and the project was abandoned within a day. The ponds have sat dry since then, but are finally fulfilling their original purpose.

Fish habitation structures were also added to the lake bottom before refilling the lake. State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) will be restocking the lake with a variety of warm water fish including trout, northern pike and pan fish. As the lake was drained last year, fish were captured, identified and relocated to Lake Perez at nearby Stone Valley Recreation Area. DCNR plans to introduce the same types of species to the lake when restocking.

These habitat structures will help the young fish being introduced to the lake.

“They’re stocked as fingerlings which are basically baby fish who are vulnerable to bigger fish like trout,” said Fagley.

Whipple Lake will be open for the beginning of trout season, though there will be restricted catch-and-release guidelines in place until populations have been re-established.

A new handicap accessible boat ramp and pier were also built at the lake. The pier is wheelchair friendly, and features slots allowing for people to fish through the bottom of the pier to easily haul in their catch.

The project was completed by John Nastase Construction of Snow Shoe and eight turtle basking platforms were also constructed by Eagle Scout candidate Nicholas Cole.

Fagley said that when restrictions kept bars and restaurants closed, the parks saw larger than normal crowds of people looking to socialize safely outdoors.

“Our numbers were way up this past year because parks were one of the few things people could do,” said Fagley. “People have been anxious (for the park to reopen) because we were planning to open up last summer.”

Now that construction is complete, Fagley is happy to see those same crowds return to Whipple Dam State Park. The original dam was built at the site in 1868 by Osgood M. Whipple to supply water to his sawmill. After the sawmill closed, the department of Forests and Waters considered repurposing the site as a recreation area in 1927. By the early 1930s Whipple Dam was listed as a State Forest Public Camp, and the modern dam was completed in 1935.

Haldan can be reached at hkirsch@huntingdondailynews.com.

Enrollment open for ag land preservation

For area farmers who may be interested in preserving their farm lands for generations to come, the Huntingdon County Agricultural Land Preservation Board wants people to know that enrollment is open again for the program.

Celina Seftas, executive director of the Huntingdon County Conservation District, said this program, which is part of the state’s program, has preserved 10 farms since its inception in 2001, saving 1,169 acres of farm lands in the county.

Approximately 591,819 acres have been preserved through the state’s program.

She explained a little bit of how the program works.

“The farmer still owns the land and makes management decisions,” she said. “But, the land can never be subdivided into residential or nonagricultural uses, so the farm has to be left open as farm land.”

Seftas said the land preservation board looks at certain qualities of farm land from those who decide they wish to preserve their land.

“This program looks at different rankings, like soil productivity,” she said. “The goal is to preserve the best soils in our county from direct development. Once that land becomes a housing development, that can never again be used for agricultural development. This looks at addressing food security for generations to come. We want to see the lands best used for agricultural lands in the county to stay this way.”

Before anyone contacts the conservation district to get started, Seftas gave some recommendations for farmers.

“The starting process for anyone who’s potentially interested would be to consult with their families, their attorney or their estate planner to see if the program fits them,” she said. “These easement that are offered are in perpetuity.

“The next step is to apply for an easement,” she added. “Once an application is received, it’s ranked according to the quality of soils and the development potential for that location and how close they are to other easements or other agricultural security areas. The board then would begin the process of working through the rankings in numerical order to preserve those rankings.”

Seftas said this process, once it starts for a farmer, can take one to three years to complete.

“This is due to paperwork and to allocate enough funding to complete the easement purchase,” said Seftas.

Though farmers have to put down a deposit initially to pay for an appraisal, that deposit is returned once the process is complete.

“The funding for this comes through the state’s agriculture land preservation, Act 13 funds, municipality contributions and the county’s clean and green tax interest,” said Seftas.

Open enrollment in the program will run through May 281. Applicants are encouraged to contact Seftas to learn more about the program by calling 627-1626 or emailing manager@huntingdonconservation.org.

Applications are available by request and on the conservation district website at www.huntingdoncd.org/agricultural-programs/agricultural-land-preservation.

Information given for primary election

With one election over, the Huntingdon County Elections office is busy helping to prepare for the next municipal primary election, which is set for Tuesday, May 18.

Tammy Thompson, the county elections coordinator, said the first date that people need to know about would be those planning to run for office.

“I’ve gotten calls about circulating petitions, but I don’t have anything available yet (as far as petition packets),” she said. “It won’t be until late January or early February until we put this information out.”

She said the first day candidates can circulate and gain signatures is Tuesday, Feb. 16.

“The deadline for candidates to file petitions is March 9,” she added.

On the county level, the sheriff and prothonotary positions are up for re-election this year, according to Thompson.

Both of those positions are four-year terms.

As this is a municipal election year, this means that the terms of those on various boards of supervisors , borough councils, school board seats, and other positions are open.

“I’m working with all municipalities to see what positions are up in their respective municipalities,” said Thompson.

As to how many signatures are need, that information would depend on what office a person wishes to seek. Getting enough of those signatures and filing them properly by March 9 means that candidates can get on the ballot of their party of choice in the spring primary.

Thompson said there are deadlines for voters in the upcoming election.

“The last day for anyone to register to vote or make any changes to their political affiliation is Monday, May 3,” she said.

If anyone wants to do absentee or mail-in voting for this election, they’re required to contact the election office seek an application to fill out, or fill out an application online at www.votespa.gov.

“The last day to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot is Tuesday, May 11, which is one week before election day,” said Thompson.

If anyone has any questions about the petition process or the voting process, please contact Thompson’s office at 643-3091.

County won't get two judges

It’s unlikely Huntingdon County will be served by two judges anytime soon.

The state Senate bill that would have allowed for the additional judge did not pass due after not having enough time to be considered in the state House.

Senate Bill 1033 would have added an additional judge to the 20th judicial district, the district which handles cases in Huntingdon County. The bill was originally introduced by state Sen. Gordner and state Sen. Jake Corman amended the bill to include Huntingdon County.

“The bill unanimously passed the Senate and remained in the house judiciary committee, where it died with the end of the legislative session,” Jennifer Kocher, Corman’s communications director, told The Daily News.

Since the session ended before the bill received consideration, Gordner’s office would need to reintroduce the bill and go through the House and Senate again. Gordner’s office has yet to announce a decision on the reintroduction.

Huntingdon County President Judge George Zanic is disappointed the bill did not pass.

“It is sad that the legislators did not get the chance to consider the bill,” Zanic said. “However, Huntingdon County has survived with one judge and will continue to do so. I believe that it is unfair that Huntingdon County only has one judge while counties like Philadelphia have 93 judges, especially considering that I can complete 21 cases by the time that a judge from Philadelphia can complete one.”

Zanic believes the legislators need to evaluate the entire state and decide on who needs what amount of judges.

“My concern is more on reducing the number of judges where there is an extraordinary amount and putting them in places where they are needed,” Zanic said. “In 2015, the Supreme Court Judicial decided the recommended number of judges for every county in Pennsylvania. They decided that Huntingdon County needs at least two judges. It is disappointing that the legislator has still not acted upon their recommendations.”

Kylie can be reached at kyoung@huntingdondailynews.com.

New attorney joins Huntingdon law firm

A local law firm has added an attorney to their staff.

Amber McCloskey has joined BMZ Law in Huntingdon as a full-time attorney. McCloskey, who has recently graduated from the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia, started at BMZ in May as a law clerk while she was studying for the bar exam. After she passed the bar exam, she began working as an attorney at the firm in December.

McCloskey has loved working at the firm so far.

“I really enjoyed working here as a law clerk,” McCloskey said. “All of my coworkers have been great to work with and I look forward to working with them. One of the reasons I joined the firm is that I love the environment here. It is a great firm, they have taught me how to be the best attorney I can possibly be and I am excited for my future here.”

McCloskey is a native to central Pennsylvania. She is originally from Williamsburg and attended Williamsburg Community Junior/Senior High School. After high school, she attended Penn State University Park Campus for her undergraduate degree in political science.

Following the completion of her undergraduate work, McCloskey worked as a paralegal for Kimmel and Silverman Law Firm in Philadelphia. She worked there for two years before she decided to return to central Pennsylvania.

McCloskey was inspired to go into law after she began working as a paralegal.

“I decided to go to law school when I realized that I was really good at law when I started working as a paralegal,” McCloskey said. “So far, I have really enjoyed all of the work that I have done. I am looking forward to working as an attorney.”

McCloskey is currently working at the BMZ Law Firm in Huntingdon. At the firm, she specializes in family law.

To schedule an appointment with McCloskey, contact Heather at the BMZ Law Firm in Huntingdon at 643-3555.

Kylie can be reached at kyoung@huntingdondailynews.com.