With Lily Pads Gone, Time To Fish And Kayak On Lake Surprise

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UNION COUNTY—It’s been years, but Lake Surprise looks like a lake again.
The 24-acre lake, nestled in Union County’s Watchung Reservation, was dredged and cleared in 2000. But within the first few years, the lily pads, a species called Spatterdock, quickly retook the water’s surface.  And as they did, it made fishing and boating increasingly difficult.

This fall, the county contracted with Aquatic Technologies in Sussex County to clear the lily pads. But this time it would be done differently because this time not only would the surface vegetation be removed, but also the vast root system that had spread across the lake bottom.

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Over a period of 10 days, truckloads of lily pads, along with their alien-looking roots, were raked from the lake bottom and hauled to the county’s compost facility in Springfield.

“Lake Surprise now looks the way it was meant to look when first planned,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, liaison to the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Renewal. “Hike through the park and stop at the edge of the pond, and you forget that you are in one of the most densely populated areas of the nation. You will see the vivid reflections of the fall foliage, and maybe a hawk or a heron. It’s a view you won’t want to miss.”

When Union County contracted with Aquatic Technologies to clear the eastern end of the lake, the expectation was that only about half the targeted section could be removed under the 10-day contract, said Alfred Faella, county parks director.

However, the operation moved so smoothly that the entire portion of the lake that is visible from the reservations winding roadway was cleared.
Small patches of spatterdock were intentionally left along sections of some shoreline to provide shelter for fish, reptiles and amphibians, Faella said, noting that one larger patch was left along the southern shore where rocks prevented the “hydro-rake” from getting into the area.

In fact, the hydro-rake, which looks a little like a miniature Mississippi river boat, broke several steel teeth hitting some of the rocks.

“But that’s pretty much standard. That’s how you find them—when you hit them,” said Chris Hanlon, who heads Aquatic Technologies and oversaw the operation.

The fact that the lake, which straddles the Summit-Mountainside border, had been dredged a decade ago and a lot of stumps and logs removed at that time, helped the crew move at a good pace, Hanlon said.

The crews were also able to do some clearing in the channel leading to the western end of the lake, which is hidden from the road because of the way the shoreline narrows in the middle of the lake.

“There was a lot of fishing line, mainly wrapped around the lily pads,” Hanlon said. “We also pulled out two golf clubs and a bunch of golf balls.”

Hanlon said there was so much vegetation removed from the lake that it required three and four trips to the compost facility every day for his trucks to dump everything.

Visitors to the lake will see a large mass of lily pads on the other side of the roadway,  Those lily pads, which are upstream from the main lake, were left intentionally because they help clean the water and provide an environment for aquatic life.

As for the lake cleaning crews, they have moved on to Ogdensburg and will be on the water somewhere in the tri-state area for another month.

“They’ll be raking all through November,” Hanlon said. “After that, it just gets too cold. Last year we were up on Longwood Lake in November and we were breaking ice.”

Lake4(s)
A REFLECTIVE MOMENT…on Lake Surprise in Union County’s Watchung Reservation. The eastern end of the lake was covered with lily pads, much to the consternation of fishing enthusiasts, whose lines would catch in all the vegetation. The county hired a Sussex County firm that brought in specialized boats to rake the bottom of the lake to remove not only the lily pads, but the sprawling root system that enabled the vegetation to take over the 24-acre lake.

Ducks1(s)
A DUCK GLIDES BY…on the mirror-like surface of Lake Surprise in Union County’s Watchung Reservation. The eastern end of the lake was covered with lily pads, much to the consternation of fishing enthusiasts, whose lines would catch in all the vegetation. The county hired a Sussex County firm that brought in specialized boats to rake the bottom of the lake to remove not only the lily pads, but the sprawling root system that enabled the vegetation to take over the 24-acre lake.


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