Coming Out of the Ice Age

Stream Restoration at the Headwaters of the Lehigh

Exciting restoration news is bubbling up in the headwaters of the Lehigh River, in the neighborhood of State Game Lands 312 in Gouldsboro, Pa, to be exact, where Wildlands Conservancy permanently protected the 500-acre Klondike property in March 2018.

This on-the-ground stewardship speaks volumes about the in-perpetuity aspect of our conservation efforts and the power of partnerships.

The how of how this project got underway? Wildlands gathered friends, supporters and partners to formally announce this land-protection success in May of last year – and the conservation conversation about removing an obsolete dam naturally (pun intended) came up.

“Together with our organizational partners, we recognized that the first step to steward this landscape was to protect the property and sensitive open space from encroaching development. After that accomplishment, the next objective was to restore the degraded conditions created by the high hazard dam. Partners like the Pennsylvania Game Comission, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Palmerton Natural Resource Committee came together and pitched in to assist with the planning and funding to accomplish this incredible goal of removing the dam within less than a year” Says Kristie Fach, Director of Ecological Restoration for Wildlands.

Specific to Klondike, in the pre-project monitoring phase, it was noted that a great deal of water was being pooled behind the dam, referred to as an impoundment. The slow-moving water was about four degrees warmer than the nearby flows from the headwaters of the river, which is a very significant difference. Higher temperatures and the lack of passage available to fish had, over time, seriously degraded animal habitat and water quality. Too, species of fish that are plentiful in other moving sections of the river are nowhere to be found near the impoundment.

Now, about that dam.

The road to cleaner, healthier water often starts with removing evidence of human influence on a landscape, which in the case of the Klondike property, is the aforementioned dam.

Like many vestiges from bygone eras, these structures were constructed with the intent to be useful to local industry. The Klondike Ice Dam was erected to support the ice business that flourished in the area in the early part of the 20th century.

The pooled water would freeze and then be cut into blocks that would help keep perishable items fresh as they were shipped by train to various parts of the country.

Eventually this use fell by the wayside as technology improved refrigeration, but the dam was restored in the 1960’s, possibly to make way for what could be considered lakeside property development. While they play a key role in history, dams can be harmful to the local ecology, which is why removing them is a proven tool for stream and waterway restoration.

Making way for Wildlife

Early in August 2019, Wildlands, along with partners, worked to remove the dam on the Klondike property. Mere days after the removal of the structure, there was a noticeable influx of wildlife to the area. Take for example the Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron pictured here. The intent of the project is to return this section of the mighty Lehigh River to its most natural state and transition the stagnant ponds created by the dam into acres of thriving wetland.

Native plantings will take root in the next phase of the process to establish what is known as a riparian buffer.  This vegetation will turn the muddy flats remaining after the water has been drained into a green, lush landscape. Also, various trees and shrubs planted along the river’s edge will provide shade for fish and aid in keeping water temperatures cool – just how the local wildlife likes it! Happier headwaters make for a happier, healthier watershed in general- which is wonderful news when you call the Lehigh River watershed home!

Wildlands acknowledges the support of our giving community, especially the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Palmerton Natural Resource Committee, for making this critical conservation work possible.