From Bedford Springs to Fawn Lake: How Bedford’s Only Natural Body of Water Evolved

Town Historian Sharon McDonald with Trails and Fawn Lake Committee member Michael Barbehenn speaking during a public meeting held by the Bedford Garden Club on the north lawn of Fawn Lake ~ Images (c) Susan Wingfield, 2021, all rights reserved

The Bedford Garden Club, in an effort to promote appreciation of some of Bedford’s natural areas, held a recent outdoor meeting on the north lawn of Fawn Lake.

Upwards of 30 members gathered for the event, risking rain to learn more about and contemplate the historic body of water.

The first presenter was Sharon McDonald, Bedford’s town historian, who spoke about the illustrious history of Fawn Lake.

The lake originally was three springs that were thought to be medicinal by indigenous groups in the area, she related. When Bedford was settled by colonists, the springs continued to be seen as restorative, ultimately resulting in the founding of the Bedford Springs Hotel and Spa. Eventually, the springs were excavated and enclosed, creating the body of water now known as Fawn Lake.

(More information about the history of Fawn Lake can be found at https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2018/07/a-slice-of-history-bedford-springs-the-new-york-pharmaceutical-company-and-the-hayden-house/ )

Also speaking to the Garden Club was Trails and Fawn Lake Committee member Michael Barbehenn who reviewed the successful efforts to rejuvenate Fawn Lake.

Since it is a man-made lake, Fawn Lake is prone to aquatic plants that contribute to its swampy nature, he explained.  In recent years, the infill of plants was approximately five feet deep, over half of the lake’s eight-foot depth.

Bedford has made various attempts to address this issue, starting in 2000, Barbehenn related. The efforts to rectify issues in the lake included the use of plant-killing chemicals and mechanical raking, both of which had very little success.

The issue was raised again in recent years when fish in the lake began to die off. The Fawn Lake Committee was created in 2015 to address the problem, looking into a number of cleanup strategies, he continued.

The committee ultimately decided that wet dredging was the best strategy as it would not require the lake to be fully drained, an endeavor that would result in a large loss of aquatic life.

The wet dredging process consisted of drawing cables across the water and attaching them to a barge which was then zigzagged over the surface, Barbehenn described.

As the barge moved, it churned up the silt and removed it along with the infill layer of plants on the bottom of the lake. The removed matter was then dried, compressed, and sent to a landfill.

As Barbehenn noted, the removal of the matter was only part of the solution. The lake has also long suffered from other issues, like fertilizer runoff from nearby houses as well as a dam in disrepair which was condemned by the state.

The dam was repaired as part of the renovation, while a retaining wall was built around much of the lake to prevent contamination, he said.

Barbehenn noted that the project cost $1.9 million, including $100,000 for soil quality studies.


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