History of Hemlock Park

Hemlock Lake is the third of the original county parks proposed in the 1960s. The park serves the residents of northern Indiana County. The largest nearby towns are Rossiter, Glen Camp­ bell and Punxsutawney.

When first developed, the site was known as Straight Run Dam, the name Hemlock Lake County Park was chosen later by the Indiana County Park Board. The name is derived from the native hemlock trees that dot the surrounding hillsides. Straight Run is a very small stream that feds the lake; the lake is also supplied by numerous underground springs and seeps.

The PA Fish Commission (PFC), now known as the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PF&BC), made the site selection, determined the size of the lake and the location of the embankment; test borings to determine the suitability of the dam’s location were completed prior to February 1969.

Gwin Engineers of Altoona was hired by the PFC in February 1969 to design the dam and provide construction and bidding documents. It was necessary to have the project bids opened and awarded before June 30, 1969 or risk losing federal and state funding for the project.

The project was bid in two phases, one bidding for the construction of the dam and a second bidding for the recreational facilities. Low bidder for the construction of the dam was GAL Construction Company of Charleroi, PA at a cost of $399,000.

The recreational facilities contract was awarded to A.F. Moreau & Sons of Indiana, PA at a cost of $90,000. Moreau & Sons also constructed some of the first facilities at Blue Spruce Park. Construction of the dam and recreational facilities were completed-by October 31, 1970. The recreational facilities work also included construction of 3,800 feet of access road.

The dam’s embankment is 650 feet long at its top and forty feet high at its highest point. The normal pool level of the lake surface area is 59 acres and the deepest point is 33 feet. The dam has an uncontrolled overflow weir type reinforced concrete spillway. The outlet control works consist of a thirty-inch pre-stressed concrete pipe under the embankment with a trash rack structure on its upstream end. The reinforced concrete control tower has a 24-inch sluice gate. A fish catch basin is located at the end of the overflows to catch any fish that inadvertently escape from the dam.

Hemlock Lake is located near the eastern continental divide. The waters from the lake flow into Little Mahoning Creek and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. Not far from the park (near the Johnsonburg crossroads) is the location of the Chesapeake Bay divide. Northeast of Johnsonburg the drainage area empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and ultimately, into the Chesapeake Bay.

Indiana County approved a 40-year lease agreement with the PFC to operate and manage the site as a county park on June 1, 1972. The lease was extended for another 25 years in 2012.

Because sufficient funds were available from state and federal grants, Indiana County did not contribute funds to acquire or complete the initial development of the park. The County has funded other improvements to the park and park roads in succeeding years and performs routine maintenance of the park.

The lake was known as Hemlock Lake by the PF&BC until’2007 when the official name was changed to Straight Run Lake to correspond with the name in the National Hydrography Dataset. The national dataset is used by the U.S. Geological Service to apply uniform names for geologic features among federal, state and local agencies.

Straight Run Lake is classified as an infertile lake by fishery biologists, meaning that the fish do not grow very fast.

Large gamefish in the lake include largemouth bass, northern pike and a few saugeye. The panfish fishery consists of bluegills, black crappies, pumpkinseeds and brown bullheads plus some rock bass and yellow perch.

White suckers and golden shiners are also present in the lake. The lake is stocked with walleye fingerlings by the PF&BC, usually every two years.

Hemlock Lake is located in Banks Town­ ship in beautiful rural surroundings. The lake is reminiscent to some of small lakes found in Canada. Anglers who want to catch panfish, bass and maybe even an occasional northern pike will enjoy the scenic setting of the park.

The park receives most of its visitation from residents of northern Indiana County, southern Jefferson County and parts of western Clearfield County. A nearby Amish population also uses the park on a frequent basis.