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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

SINCE ITS DAM was destroyed by the 2005 floods, the waters at Briscoe Lake have dropped considerably. The stumps and land seen here once used to be covered, and make for an eery sight when driving by at dusk.

Briscoe Dam group gets OK to rebuild

By Jeanne Sager
BRISCOE — February 12, 2008 — They’ve been hearing since the beginning it can’t be done.
It’s no wonder the members of the Briscoe Community Association want to announce from the rooftops: “we got the permit.”
Formed just three months after the April 5, 2005 storm that shattered the dam holding the water in Briscoe Lake, the association is ready to put back what brought them together… almost.
Their permit, issued jointly by the New York State Department of Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers late last month, will last only until 2011.
The group has until then to raise more than $100,000 in funds or in-kind donations and rebuild the stone-and-wood structure first erected 150-some years ago to provide power to grist and sawmills in a once bustling little community.
Driving the efforts is a core group of volunteers, each with their own stories of Briscoe Lake.
Asked why they’ve dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to bringing it back, most would echo excavator Jim Hughson.
“It’s the right thing to do,” the lakeside property owner said simply.
He’s offered up his excavating skills to the process, along with his time during the planning stages.
Debbie Worden has offered her skills as a grantwriter. Her sister, BJ Gettel, keeps the association’s paperwork in line.
Neither lives on the lake – but they’re just as invested as Hughson or Burt and Cindy Robertson or the any of the 40 active association volunteers.
Allison Worden – grandfather to Debbie and BJ – used to tell stories of skating across the lake to the small Briscoe school where he taught for free in exchange for tuition at state college.
In those days, Briscoe had its own post office, hotel, blacksmith shop as well as the mills.
Today there are still 40 homes on the lake, and the association has a mailing list that’s 75 people strong.
“The people who make up this organization, we’re third, fourth generations on the lake,” Gettel explained.
“Now it’s our kids who can’t go fishing with grandpa anymore,” Debbie added.
The emotional ties are just as strong as concern for the community.
The lake provides water for at least three different fire companies.
There’s now a pull-off nearer Route 52 for firetrucks to fill up, but as the association’s volunteer engineering resource, Dick Mall, points out, that’s a ways to go.
“When you get where you have to start trucking water instead of laying hose, you’re at a real disadvantage,” he said, speaking as a volunteer fireman.
The plans for the new dam take the lake’s importance to the fire departments into account, with plans for two dry hydrants.
Replenishing the lake will likely replenish the Briscoe aquifer – helping some of the county’s last remaining farms which have struggled with water sources since the dam gave way.
The plans can’t make any calls on Mother Nature, but every member carries the hope that wildlife will return to the lake in numbers that were common before April 2005.
In his lifetime, Burt Robertson has lived in three spots around the lake.
“I’ve never NOT lived on the lake,” he said.
It’s made him a near-expert on the fauna of Briscoe Lake – the deer, the mink, even a bald eagle that makes its appearance each year at the chuck wagon breakfast fund-raiser.
With little water left on site, there are few fish in Briscoe these days – and that’s worked its way up the food chain, keeping other animals at bay.
It’s kept away the people too.
Hughson remembers driving by the lake in the days when people were lined up on the bridge elbow-to-elbow with a line out to catch one of the thousands of sunnies flitting around the lake.
The dam plans will make room for those fishermen again – the purchase of the lake by the association in late 2005 has made it property of the tax-exempt organization, and they’ll be opening the resource to the public.
“There’s very few places anymore you CAN fish,” Gettel explained. “There’s always someone standing there saying, ‘It’s a private lake.’”
Briscoe was always treated as a public lake, and it will be public again. Already in the works is a memory walk with pavers to honor those who have made a difference in Briscoe – including some of the major folks behind the $50,000 already raised by the association in its three year life-span.
A large portion went to purchasing what was left of the dam, another chunk to the engineering and surveying fees required in the permit process.
With just $9,000 left in the association coffers, the association looks at the 2011 deadline with a combined sense of dread and pride.
“This community association, they’ve taken on the role of being stewards of the lake,” Worden explained.
They’re stepping in where Randolph Peters, the late sawmill owner, left off.
Although Peters didn’t own the dam, his love for the lake made him step in when the previous owner didn’t to keep the structure intact.
The dam was “weeping,” Robertson said, but Peters fortified the structure with trees from his mill.
Ironically his biggest helpers were the beavers who tackled the dam’s weak spots underwater.
Other residents – including Hughson – made attempts over the years to buy the dam or make repairs.
They were always stymied, and the flood struck the final blow residents knew was coming.
Now is their chance to make up for lost time.
With overwhelming support thus far, the association is bound to keep their busy schedule of at least four to five annual fund-raisers going.
They’re promising to have the dam fixed by the time the permit expires.
“We lost it, but we’re coming back,” Gettel said with a grin. “We’ve pulled together, and we’re going to get it done.
“People told us, ‘You’re not going to raise the money, you’re never going to get the permit from the DEC,’ but we did it, and now we need your help,” she continued.
Actively applying for grants, Worden said she’s facing the need for as much as 50 percent in matching funds from the community before the association can earn any kind of help.
With a spring fling dance set for March 29 from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. at the Jeffersonville Inn, its chuck wagon breakfast set on site on May 29, and the annual yard sale set for the last weekend of June, first weekend of July, the association is ready to start refilling its coffers and get to work.
For tickets or information call Burt Robertson (292-5873), Carol Norris (292-3909) or Dick Mall (482-5138).
As their catchy buttons say, they’re ready to “Dam It.

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