DCNR buys access at Elk Creek

Erie, Pa. – In this city’s red- hot waterfront real estate
market, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural
Resources has landed a cool deal.

Its offer to buy the popular Elk Creek access area on Lake
Erie’s largest steelhead stream from Girard Township for $400,000
was approved unanimously by the township’s three supervisors Jan.
22. It is less than half the township’s appraised value of
$1,060,000.

The 81-acre parcel is sandwiched between Erie Bluffs State Park
and a 49-acre parcel owned by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat
Commission, and will become part of the 540-acre state park.

Although there are no contingencies in the sales agreement,
Supervisor Sandy Anderson said the township will urge DCNR to move
ahead with improvements to the property. “They talked about a
better boat launch, about better access to the lake,” said
Anderson. “We want to be sure these things happen.”

Anderson said the reason the township agreed to the sale was
because it couldn’t afford to make improvements and was spending
$7,000 a year on maintenance, and even that was hard to keep
up.

As angling pressure on steelhead streams mushroomed in recent
years, porta-johns at the access area had become the butt of bad
jokes about their neglected condition.

Prior to the agreement, DCNR spokesman Chris Novak outlined her
agency’s commitment to renovating the existing boat launch, as well
as angler parking and toilet facilities, and creating better access
to the lake. But she said construction of a safe harbor, which was
discussed at a public meeting Jan. 15, was out of the agency’s
hands.

“That would involve the Fish & Boat Commission and the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers,” Novak said.

Such a harbor would be the only one between Walnut Creek and
Conneaut Creek, 17 miles away. Anderson said it was her hope
multiple agencies could work together to make that happen. “Who
knows?” she said. “Maybe DCNR will buy the Fish & Boat
Commission’s land.”

As it is now, though, Dick Mulfinger, the Fish & Boat
Commission’s head of engineering and property services, said a safe
harbor at Elk Creek is out of the question.

“We had a (natural inventory) study done when we first acquired
our property and 27 rare native plants were found on the land,
similar to what you find on Presque Isle Bay. That’s one thing,”
Mulfinger said.

“Number two, there’s a big sandbar across the mouth that’s
constantly shifting. According to a study we had done by an
engineering firm 12 years ago, the cost, even back then, to
stabilize the mouth was $12 million, plus another $250,000 a year
just to maintain. The Fish & Boat Commission can’t come up with
that kind of money.”

Mulfinger said it is more likely the commission will make
improvements to Walnut Creek’s access channel, which has an ongoing
problem with silt buildup and is obsolete for today’s bigger boats.
The commission is paying an engineering firm to study the
feasibility and cost of redesigning the channel.

“It was designed 30 years ago to handle 19-foot boats with
6-foot beams,” said Mulfinger. “Today’s boats are 4 feet longer and
wider. People who aren’t used to (the channel) wind up with damage
to their propellers.”

Although the commission dredges the channel annually with a
$300,000 machine it bought several years ago, Mulfinger said, “We’d
like to create a more permanent solution.”

Dan Kelly, of Buckets Charters and president of the Port Erie
Charter Captains Association, said he’s eager to see a permanent
improvement at Walnut Creek, too, and wonders “why all of the
funding from the Lake Erie stamp seems to go toward easement
purchases along steelhead streams. I’m not knocking the
steelheaders, but boaters are paying for their creek access,” he
said. “Some of that money should go to improvements for
boaters.”

Charter captains, and recreational anglers and boaters make up a
huge portion of Erie’s economy, not just in summer but year-round,
generating more than $5 million annually.

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