(LOOGOOTEE) - A planned renovation of West Boggs Creek Reservoir - more commonly known simply as Boggs or Boggs Lake - has caused some public concern and more than a little misinformation to be circulated, according to West Boggs Park and Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials.
Andrea McCann of the Washington Times Herald reports that fishing revenue has declined, they said, because undesirable fish species have overpopulated and pushed out game fish species. In addition, water quality has degraded because of the way these unwanted species filter their food. To resolve the problem, West Boggs and IDNR staff will work together to renovate the lake in the same way it was done nearly two decades ago.
"The plan has been written, and the scheduled date is 2014," said IDNR fisheries biologist David Kittaka. "There's a lot to be done between now and then to make sure everything is done right."
He said there will be open houses so the public can learn more about the plan, and a website -- http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7418.htm -- has been created to explain what led up to the renovation decision and what people can expect.
Kittaka said the lake's fish population is a fairly complicated dynamic. Prior to 2000, he said, there was no gizzard shad in the lake, so there was a tremendous bluegill and bass population. Now, gizzard shad has outgrown the rest of the food chain and created a severe imbalance. Carp also are a problem.
"It's unknown how gizzard shad got there," Kittaka said. "Once the damage is done, there's not much we can do about it. We've tried several methods to diminish the population."
One of the more drastic measures is a law that was passed making it illegal to be in possession of gizzard shad.
"It's that big a problem," he said.
Currently, Kittaka continued, more than 64 percent of the fish population in Boggs Lake is considered non-game fish, or problem species.
"When you have that much of an imbalance, the game population is hurt," he said.
The fisheries biologist said largemouth bass fishermen are catching big fish, but replacement of those fish is down.
"We consider it poor," Kittaka said, "and the bluegill population quality is not good. There are a lot of bluegill out there competing for food."
He said the bluegill can't grow to a decent size when they're competing with each other and the gizzard shad for food.
"There isn't any good byproduct of gizzard shad," said Mike Axsom, superintendent of Daviess-Martin Joint County Parks and Recreation Department, better known simply as West Boggs Park.
When they're small, he said, they're a food source for largemouth bass. But, he explained, the gizzard shad isn't the same as the shad used as bait in fishing shows people might see on TV. The gizzard shad is commonly 8 to 14 inches long, but can reach 18 inches, according to DNR information. According to Axsom, once the gizzard shad reaches 6 inches, it's too large to serve as a food source for other fish.
Undesirable species also degrade water quality the way they filter feed, according to Kittaka.
He said they eat microscopic algae and insects off the lake bottom, which resuspends the organic matter previously trapped on the bottom and muddies the water. The more organic matter that's stirred up, the more nutrients become available for microscopic algae to grow in the lake.
"Back in 1999 we did a survey to determine who fished and what they caught," Kittaka said, adding there were 30,778 fishing trips on West Boggs Creek Reservoir from April through October before the shad arrived. "We've been monitoring since 2002 when we found gizzard shad."
In 2010, he said, there were 5,214 fishing trips, a considerable drop in attendance, so the decision was made to renovate.
"Anglers aren't going to fish where there are no fish," he said.
West Boggs Creek was dammed in 1972 to create the 622-acre reservoir, according to Kittaka. Since the state of Indiana owns all public waters and everything in them, the reservoir and its contents are operated by IDNR. The surrounding land is located in Daviess and Martin counties and is deeded to the Daviess-Martin Joint County Parks and Recreation Department.
"We own all of the lakeshore," Axsom said, explaining the park and lake property totals 1,500 acres.
Park patrons can enjoy a beach for swimming, a 250-site campground, five shelter houses, activity center, and multi-use trails. Most of the park is located in Martin County, according to Axsom, but the campground is primarily in Daviess County.
There are more than 300 homes on the lake, he said, and all are located in Daviess County.
"Where the homes are, the homeowners are issued an annual special-use permit," Axsom continued. "Most of them have two special-use permits -- one for the land and one for a boat dock."
In addition, West Boggs Park holds the leases for the golf course and Lakeview Restaurant.
Some of the lakeshore is protected and cannot be developed, Axsom said, adding that the land that can be developed is pretty much saturated. There are two waterfowl resting areas that host many species, including eagles, heron, ducks, geese and killdeer.
"A constructed wetland filters water coming into the lake," he explained.
"It does its job, but it also is a haven for birds.
"We get almost every species of waterfowl in the Mississippi flyway at one time or another."
Boaters use the lake for all different purposes, according to Boggs Programs Director Susan Harrawood. She said it's used largely for fishing from March to May and in the fall, and recreational boating from May to August.
Last week the joint parks board approved a $1.26 million budget for the property, according to Axsom.
"It was all earned right here," he said. "That's money people are giving us because they want to; it's not tax money."
Though fishing revenue since 2000 has declined, Axsom and Harrawood said other usage has grown. Harrawood said some campers reserve spots as much as two years in advance and the campground continues to grow. She said there are people who walk in the park every day year round, and there are a number of programs and activities available.
"We've worked very hard to create a family atmosphere," she said. "A new crowd was created with our programming."
Axsom said rumors that the lake will be drained permanently because it's not making money and the government no longer wants to fund it just aren't true.
He said 1996 was the last year the park and lake received government funding. Since then it's operated successfully on leases, user permits and fees - 75 percent of which comes from outside the area.
Those out-of-area visitors also spend money in the community to eat out and buy supplies and fuel, so there's an indirect economic impact for the community along with the direct impact to the park and its employees.
Axsom said park employees have been working hard to prepare for the renovation so they can maintain that impact and continue it once the renovation is complete.
Kittaka said the plan is to draw down the lake level in the fall of 2014, probably in September, and apply a chemical called rotenone that will kill the fish and become inert in about a month. At that time, the lake will be refilled and restocked with bluegill, redear sunfish, largemouth bass, black crappie and channel catfish. According to Axsom, the fish will be a year old and by the time they're 2 years old, they should be ready to catch.
"They should recover quickly," he said.
"The same renovation was done on the lake in 1994. Park visitation after that last renovation skyrocketed. By 2016, we should be one of the best fishing spots within 500 miles."
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