Apr 14, 2010 ellen leahy Uncategorized
I toured upper Onondaga Park with Paul Pflanz, the former head of the Onondaga Historical Society (2000-2006), Onondaga Park Association (OPA) member, a trustee of the Syracuse Parks Conservancy and a raconteur of merit. This is a continuation of Onondaga Park’s story.
It has been written that the human embodiment of Hiawatha was many things to the Iroquois Nation. Ultimately, this Native Amercian is most noted for aiding in the consolidation of the five Indian Nations of the central belt in Upstate New York: Onondagas, Mohawks, Oneidas, Senecas and Cayugas.
It makes sense that the Indian’s aquatic namesake, Hiawatha Lake (formerly Wilkinson Resevoir), plays a central role in the 67-acre Onondaga Park on the city’s Southwest side.
Hiawatha is a tranquil body of water that has played many roles, first as city of Syracuse reservoir, then as an actual water playground, and today, as a thought provoking oasis between the city’s south side and west side neighborhoods.
Wilkinson Reservoir’s water was pumped up from Onondaga Creek. This became problematic in regard to quality in the 1800s. OPA member Paul Pflanz said Syracuse actually had a couple of typhoid outbreaks, which prompted city officials to look for another water source. Skaneateles Lake became the ideal solution for fresh water. The city created Wood Lawn Reservoir up the hill from Wilkinson pumping water in from Skaneateles. Today, Hiawatha Lake is fed from Wood Lawn (not Onondaga Creek).
At the time of Wood Lawn’s conception, Wilkinson transitioned to Hiawatha Lake, lowering the water at least 10 feet to create a swimming pool. This made it an active centerpiece to the developing Onondaga Park.
Once, boating was a prominent activity on the lake. There was an additional outdoor pavilion near that former gatehouse for entertaining by the water, and a slide for swimming.
The fully functioning bathing pavilion, which is now used mostly for park storage, was added around 1912 to span the neck of the lake. Today, the 50 meter long, six lane outdoor Onondaga swimming pool, to the south of the bathing pavilion, is the center of water recreation.
Now, the 11.2-acre Hiawatha Lake is a passive scenic body of water used more for contemplation and as a picturesque backdrop for prom and wedding pictures. Swimming and boating are prohibited, perhaps as a reflection of our more litigious society.
Pflanz said the lake is 10 to 12 feet deep in the middle. The stonewall that surrounds the inside of the lake has no footing, which makes it less durable, requiring more maintenance.
The lake is stocked with fish because of an annual summertime fishing derby. Pflanz said there are huge carp that remain from years past. And, he knows of at least one snapping turtle he spied lumbering toward the lake last year.
The centerpiece of the lake is a gazebo (that holds up to 40 people) erected on an island that is accessible seasonally by a removable bridge.
Latest challenge is invasive species
Like many CNY lakes, Hiawatha is experiencing a Eurasian Watermilfoil (EW) invasion. It was often determined that boat launches like the ones on Skaneateles and Cazenovia Lakes enabled the spread of the invasive species trekking it in on boats from other lakes. But since there is no boating on Hiawatha, it must come in on the wind or be delivered by birds.
Pflanz said the OPA would like the city’s parks department to pick a solution to the problem and get to it. Mike Behnke of the Syracuse Parks Conservancy agrees.
Parks Commissioner Pat Driscoll is working on Hiawatha’s EW problem. He said they had a productive meeting on April 6. In attendance were members of the OPA, including Joe Porter and Paul Pflanz, and members of the Greater Strathmore Neighbors Association. Also in attendance were two representatives from the Fulton Chain of Lakes Committee, a group that serves as stewards for water sources in the Adirondacks, as Adirondacks water sources have also been subject to EW.
“Some of their volunteers include divers and they identify ‘good plants’ and ‘bad plants.’ In some cases the bad plants have been pulled by the divers, while the good plants stay to ‘feed’ the fish living in the lake.
“The group agreed that closer to June, we would tap into Fulton Chain of Lakes offer to utilize divers to identify the milfoil in Hiawatha Lake. We will communicate with this committee in May to determine when the divers can come in and do their work.
“We are excited about this partnership and we think it can meet the needs of all parties involved,” Driscoll said.
Pflanz agreed, he said the conclusion from that meeting was that mowing only propagates the weed, and that hand pulling could be the best solution for Hiawatha. The parks department will continue to study the problem to find the most cost-effective way to dispense of the troublesome weeds.
“We’d like a miracle,” Pflanz said, which perhaps echoes many a CNY lake user’s sentiments.
They got it right when they categorized EW as invasive; it’s pervasive, too.
How about an upstate milfoil forum?
It might make sense to convene a forum of participants from all the CNY waters effected by EM (and the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes, too) to gain consensus on the best practice to eradicate this nuisance. Many of the lake communities have engaged different management practices, and EW continues to plague our waters.
The city could go to school on the various findings, which include a mower that failed in Skaneateles; divers hand pulling the weeds in Skaneateles (some success), but very expensive; and a herbicide approach in Cazenovia.
Skaneateles and Otisco are reservoirs, so herbicide and chemical controls are not being supported. Otisco’s lake association has been discussing the use of biological controls and also large mats that do not allow sunshine in, which EM must have to thrive and propagate.
To reserve space in Onondaga Park for a function you must contact City’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Youth Programs 473-4330.
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