Raystown Dam turns 40

HUNTINGDON – Raystown Lake is enjoyed by many people including boaters, fishermen and picnickers.

The fact that Raystown Lake is a reservoir from a dam constructed to prevent flooding may be forgotten, especially because public access has long been restricted to the spillway where the lake’s water, about 200 feet deep, is controlled.

But for the first time since 2001, the spillway and interior galleries will be open for public tours later this week.

“Children and adults will not have experienced this before. They like to boat and fish, but they forget the purpose of the dam is for flood prevention,” Operations Manager Nicholas Krupa said.

Guided tours on Friday and Saturday will include access to the spillway and interior galleries. Park rangers will give presentations on lake history, operations and local heritage. The tours are scheduled in celebration of Raystown Dam’s 40th anniversary.

“The tours will be busy. We are expecting a good crowd,” Park Ranger Allen Gwinn said.

The dam’s spillway and interior galleries have been restricted since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spurred the lockdown of federal infrastructure.

The dam’s water is released primarily in conjunction with a hydroelectric power plant at the dam. The power plant can control approximately 1,000 cubic feet of water per second. But the spillway is used if the dam needs to release more water than the power plant can control, Gwinn said.

The Raystown Dam is one of 16 dams on the Susquehanna River basin that reduce the impact of flooding in downstream locations. For the Raystown Dam, those locations include Mount Union, Lewistown and Harrisburg, Gwinn said.

“Raystown Dam and the other dams work in cooperation to either hold back or release water to reduce the impact of flooding,” he said.

The public is invited for the tours, Gwinn said. But presentation of a government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license, passport or school ID will be required of visitors taking the tour. Children age 15 years and younger are not required to have identification, but must be accompanied on the tour by an adult.

The hourlong tours will depart from the overlook at the dam every half hour beginning at 10 a.m., with the last tour departing at 3:30 p.m. each day.

The tours have been planned by the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates and maintains the dam.

The recreation area of the dam and overlook are open all year, Gwinn said.