spring on the lake

TANNER MONDOK | Herald Bill Spring, Shenango River Lake resource manager, looks on while walking a trail Tuesday at Shenango River Lake.

Spring has arrived at Shenango River Lake. 

Bill Spring, that is.

The 11-year Army Corps of Engineers veteran started his first day Tuesday as resource manager at Shenango River Lake. Spring replaces John Kolodziejski, who retired this week after 37 years as manager.

Spring said the job a natural fit, emphasis on “natural.”

“I have a passion for the outdoors and recreation,’’ Spring said.

Shenango River Lake has more than 15,000 acres of land and water surface, with recreational facilities, camping, and a lake-and-dam reservoir system overseen by the corps. 

Spring grew up in Erie and graduated in 2009 from Penn State University. His Army Corps of Engineers resume includes a short stint at Kinzua Dam at the Allegheny River Reservoir and five years at Lake Kaweah near Sacramento, Calif. He most recently worked three years at Mosquito Creek Lake in Trumbull County.  

Part of Spring’s training includes being a park visitors’ assistant, where he gave directions and explained park rules.

“It showed you how to interact with people,’’ he said.

Spring knows the history of the lake, created in 1965 by a Corps of Engineers dam project. Prior to the dam’s construction, communities along the Shenango River often had to deal with floods.

His arrival at the lake comes at a unique moment. Like the rest of the nation, the lake and its surrounding park has to contend with restrictions designed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. The park never entirely shut down, but in March the corps closed rest rooms, playgrounds, resource buildings and beach. 

In recent weeks, though, the park has begun to reopen.

“All but a couple of the rest rooms are opened now, along with the playground and other areas,’’ Spring said.

However, Chestnut Run, the park’s swimming area, remains closed. Spring said he doesn’t know if it will open this year.

But he said the lake remains a community asset that creates business opportunities.  

“The lake is a big economic driver for the area,’’ he said. “There are a lot of boat dealers, fishing clubs and restaurants that have popped up all over the place.’’

While Shenango Lake is the park’s biggest attraction, Spring said the skies are drawing crowds, with bird watchers migrating to the park in increasing numbers. In February, when a flock of nearly 100 bald eagles arrived for a week, the park became an overnight hit. The eagles were drawn by the natural die-off of gizzard shad fish.

Birders and nature enthusiasts in the region swarmed at the lake.

“There were people from Pittsburgh and Cleveland and other places that came here,’’ he said.

The park’s campgrounds also are an attraction, Spring said. Shenango Lake Park has 330 campsites, many of which are equipped with electric hookups and showers. Spring said he’s aware that visitors want even more modernization.  

“A big complaint is how out-of-date our facilities are,’’ Spring said. “We need to find new ways to improve rest rooms, shower houses and playgrounds.’’

Rooting out invasive plant species is another challenge. Spring said the fast-growing tree of heaven has gotten a toehold in the park.

The plant, also known as the stinking sumac or stink tree because of its unpleasant odor, arrived on American shores from China in the late 1700s. Due to the tree of heaven’s extensive root system and resprouting ability, it’s difficult to control. 

It has few friends. 

“They’re an invasive species,’’ Spring said of the tree. “And it crowds out other native trees.’’

The Corps of Engineers has embarked on a spraying program to eliminate the trees, he added.

In the end though, Spring said he understands his primary duty. 

“It’s about public service and it’s about people,’’ he said.