Canadarago Lake was simply a mess in the summer of 1963. It wasn’t easy on the eyes, or nose, no thanks to sewage and dead fish. Water levels were very low and shrinking, leaving mud lots and many boat docks far from the camps. Parents wouldn’t let their children swim in the lake. Conditions got so bad that resident Peg Reynolds brought in a pail of lake water to a Richfield Springs Town Board meeting for officials to recognize that there were problems at hand.
What this all led to was the formation of the Canadarago Lake Improvement Association, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1963. It was done during a meeting of the Richfield Springs Chamber of Commerce, and Reynolds was elected Association president. The public and lake residents were invited to the first organizational meeting on Saturday, Aug. 10. The association’s mission was simple, to address and take action on the problems.
The first and chief issue addressed was the low water level of the lake. A committee of six men set out on a pontoon boat in early September to conduct a spot by spot survey of lake levels at homes and camps. They felt that a 24-inch boost in the lake level would be sufficient to reach shore levels of the past. A way to accomplish this was to build a dam below the southern end of the lake. An earthen dam had been built in 1897 but had long since eroded away.
The proposed site of a new dam was where the former Southern New York Railway bridge crossed Oaks Creek, seen today from county Route 22, East Lake Road. The bridge abutments were still solid and in place. The Association needed a permit to construct the dam from the State Department of Public Works, and it was approved in late October 1963, but the lake level could only be raised 18 inches.
Construction on the dam began in late November, halted by winter weather and resumed in June 1964. The entire financing of the dam was borne by the CLIA, coming from donations by lake residents, businesses and individuals who enjoyed fishing or boating on the lake. The cost of the dam was between $5,000 to $6,000.
Another problem in the lake was a massive infestation of carp. The fish were responsible for a lack of oxygen in the water, fed on natural plant life as well as sport fish in the lake. The Association wanted to clear the carp out of the lake. In September 1963 the association voted to purchase a 500-foot seine, a large net that could catch mass quantities of carp. In June 1964 a picture of lake residents and volunteers was seen in The Richfield Springs Mercury, dragging a huge seine out of the lake, filled with fish. A long-term plan was to restock the lake with sport fish.
Better sewage treatment was another problem addressed by the CLIA. There was a largely insufficient treatment plant in Richfield Springs. At the organizational meeting,Reynolds told the gathering and later The Oneonta Star, “The campers feel sure that if the situation were reversed and the sewage from some camps was running into the village a little more interest would be shown.” An improved treatment plant was eventually built.
From the start there was great interest by area and lake residents in the CLIA. At the annual meeting held in July 1964 it was reported that of 498 property owners around the lake, 410 were members. Jane Feisthamel, today’s president, says that of 620 lake residents, better than 300 are members, with many more from outside the area including former residents who’ve moved away.
While the CLIA vastly improved the overall quality of Canadarago Lake, Feisthamel said, it became a source of socializing for residents. In the early years, annual picnics were held by the dam site, including a carnival. Clam bakes later became popular on the grounds of the Lake House. Pig roasts and a golf tournament have been more recent annual celebrations of the CLIA’s work.
“One of our goals is to unite our members in bonds of friendship,” Feisthamel said. “They started addressing that right away,” back in 1963.
The CLIA has been celebrating their 50th anniversary on recent weekends, which included the golf tournament and pig roast, boat parade and fireworks launched from the north side of Deowongo Island. Some events had to be rescheduled due to the flooding in early July. Coming on Saturday, Aug. 31, there will be a “Lights on the Lake” event as the anniversary celebration continues.
To find out more about the many present-day lake stewardship projects of the CLIA, visit www.canadaragolake.com
This weekend: A bit of our area’s life and times in August 1928.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.