By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
“It was wonderful out here this past weekend. We had a lot of fishermen ... a lot of picnickers.”
Vickie McQueary, manager of Pulaski County Park, commented as she looked from a busy boat ramp toward a wide expanse of water dotted with fishing boats and fishermen. As Lake Cumberland is rising, crappie and other game fish are migrating from the main lake to spawning areas in the upper reaches of Fishing Creek around the park.
Permanently, for the first time in six years, Lake Cumberland has wrapped its arm around Pulaski County Park, arguably the most beautiful spot on the lake. For the past six years the lake has been operated at about 40 feet below normal, leaving Pulaski County Park high and dry.
Wolf Creek Dam has been repaired. Completion of the $594 rehabilitation of the mile-long structure has been celebrated. The water has begun to rise; 20 feet this summer and another 20 feet to historical operational levels next summer.
McQueary has seen it all. She has managed the county park for the past 13 years. She was there when Wolf Creek Dam was declared in high risk of failure. She has guided the park as it struggled through six dry summers; six vacation seasons when no sign of the lake could be seen from any point on the 800-acre park.
Now, optimism reigns supreme. Pulaski County Park is coming alive. Hopefully, previously discussed projects such as an amphitheater at the park will take on new life. At one time, many years ago, a proposed hotel at the park flickered like a pleasant dream. None has come to fruition.
However, at this point, a scenic park surrounded by water seems enough; a place where campers can launch their boats; a majestic sunrise and sunset over a beautiful lake.” That’s about all going on now,” said McQueary.
Officially, Tuesday morning the lake level was 703.56 and falling slowly. Some 20,920 cubic feet of water per second were being released through the dam. The lake level will be maintained between 700 and 705 feet during the upcoming summer vacation season.
“They started launching boats about two weeks ago,” McQueary said. “We’re having a lot of boats ... a lot of fishermen,” she reiterated.
Since Wolf Creek Dam has been declared safe, people have wondered why it is taking two summers for the lake to go back to pool stage.
Mike Zoccola, lead engineer for the rehabilitation project and chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Design Branch, said the rehabilitated Wolf Creek Dam, according to Corps’ policy, must be treated as a new dam.
“We raise the water in increments rather than put the entire pressure against the dam all at once,” Zoccola explained. He said originally they through about raising the water level 10 feet at a time, “ ... but they let us raise it 20 feet for this summer.”
And that is a big boost for the scenic creation that is Pulaski County Park. Located in western Pulaski County, the park is owned and operated by the Pulaski Fiscal Court.
On site, the park offers picnic areas, grills, shelters, 46 camping sites, playground, and 18-hole disc golf course, plus a Mountain Bike and hiking trails.
Driving the winding road that leads from Ky. 80 seemingly downhill to the park is a relaxing transformation. The canopy of trees gives a shaded distance to a busy highway.
Sometimes there is a special treat. A magnificent red fox crosses the narrow blacktop, momentarily pausing for a glance at a visitor. Then, the wily creature trots out of sight into a wooded ravine.