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Girard Lakes have a potential that should be explored and developed

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thanks to factors that in- clude a new pipe mill, Girard, a city of some 10,000 north of Youngstown, has seen its financial outlook rebound from when it went so far as to timber the woods at the two Girard lakes north of the city to help curb its red ink.

Girard bought the lakes in 1995 from Ohio Water Service for $2.25 million, intending to use them as a water source. The city didn’t go through with that idea and also abandoned the lakes as a recreational resource because supporting activities there would add to its budgetary woes. The 1,000-acre area has remained closed to the public for about a decade now and has become quite desolate.

The lower lake, located close to the intersection of Tibbetts-Wick Road and Route 422, is now just a 90-acre marsh bisected by Squaw Creek. The city drained the lake a few years ago by breaching its 450-foot-long concrete dam because the deteriorating dam, built in 1917 to augment the local steel industry’s water supply, posed a flood threat to properties between it and the creek’s mouth on the Mahoning River.

A few years ago, then Sen. George V. Voinonich secured a $16 million earmark for the dam’s repair, but the city couldn’t swing its $5.6 million share of the project.

Farther along up Squaw Creek the imposing earthen dam on Upper Girard Lake towers above Anderson-Morris Road. The dam, which dates to 1929, was also built to provide water for the local steel industry. It impounds an intact 140-acre lake. A large tube that surfaces just off the dam funnels water to the massive drainage pipe below and serves to control the lake’s level.

From the top of the dam one can see about a half mile or so up the eastern shore of the lake, the lake’s former boat launching site and boathouse. Thanks to vandals, only cement block walls of the boathouse remain, now covered with graffiti. But the shady site, served by a dirt road off Keefer Road, is still a pleasant one.

The woods lying northeast of the upper lake form a large portion of the acreage at the Girard Lakes. This area is in sad shape today as the result of timbering and the forcing of trails through the second-growth vegetation by ATV drivers.

The area is a far cry from the days when the Website for the lakes described the wide variety of trees nature lovers could find at the lakes, including pine, aspen, oak, maple, birch, poplar and chestnut. Sadly, little remains of these fine trees today except for figures in Girard’s ledgers.

Not too long ago I walked along the edge of the upper lake from the dam to the end of the lake at Niles-Vienna Road and back, a trip of about three miles. The walking was fairly easy as the lake was low. I saw a wide array of wildlife, and can attest that there remains potential for enjoyment of the outdoors at the Girard Lakes.

Both lakes would seem prime boating sites. And once the ATVs were excluded, hiking trails could be cut in the woods above the upper lake as some semblance of the forest the area once boasted returns.

I believe that Girard, and the Valley as well, has a recreational ace in the hole in this parcel of woods and lakes northeast of the city which covers an area nearly a fifth larger than New York’s Central Park.

Robert Stanger Youngstown