MARTINSBURG, W.Va.—Berkeley County has no public access to the Potomac River, so preserving the ecosystem of the fishing pond at Poor House Farm Park is important, says Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board Executive Director Steve Catlett.
The parks and recreation board on Tuesday authorized Catlett to rent equipment to dredge the 5-acre pond without draining it.
"It shouldn't affect the fishing much at all," Catlett said Tuesday evening.
The decision to scrape silt from the bottom of the fishing site in the 137-acre park comes about two months after an estimated 200 to 250 catfish died in the pond.
Catlett has yet to receive a final report concerning the fish kill, but said Tuesday that experts at Leetown Science Center in Jefferson County determined the fish died from high oxygen levels in the water.
"Their gills were fried because the oxygen level was too high," Catlett said.
The catfish were the only species in the pond that died in June, but hundreds of other catfish in the pond survived, Catlett said.
The catfish began dying about a week after the Division of Natural Resources stocked the pond, and Catlett said he suspected the fish might not have been acclimated before they were put in the water.
Regardless, dredging the pond should help lower the water temperature and address the oxygen issue, he said.
About four feet of silt has built up in the deepest area of the pond since it was built more than 10 years ago, Catlett said.
Catlett said the pond once was about 11 feet deep, but now is about 7 feet.
The pond should not need to be to dredged again as quickly in the future because erosion problems that contributed to the silt buildup have been corrected, Catlett said.
Park officials still have no control over nearby Tuscarora Creek, which impacts the pond when the stream overflows, Catlett said.
Given that Poor House Farm Park is one of the few sites in Berkeley County at which the public can fish, Catlett said the parks and recreation board wants to make sure the pond remains viable.
The state Division of Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over public fishing and boating, lists only one other "lake" to fish in Berkeley County — at Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.
There are two public access sites for small boats along Back Creek and Opequon Creek in Berkeley County, but no access to the Potomac River, according to the DNR's website.
That could change in the future if funding can be identified for a possible access site in the flood-prone community of Sportsman's Paradise, where the county owns a small amount of acreage along the river, according to Catlett and parks and recreation board President Bonn A. "Buzz" Poland.
On Tuesday, members of the board, escorted by Berkeley County litter control/code enforcement officer Donna Seiler, toured the area near Falling Waters, W.Va., to scope out a possible future public-access site.
Owners of more than 20 flood-prone properties in the community recently were offered buyouts through a federal hazard mitigation program, and the county has already taken ownership of a number of properties there, including a 1.6-acre parcel that borders the river, according to Berkeley County officials.
While public access sites are limited, trout fishing is available in a number of creeks in Berkeley County, including Middle Creek, Mill Creek, Mill Run, Opequon Creek, Tilhance Creek and Tuscarora Creek.