MERCER COUNTY, Pa. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District constructed Shenango River Lake to reduce flooding, save lives and protect property. However, in the years since, the dam, reservoir and federal lands have become a major hotspot for outdoor recreation.
More than 700,00 visitors enjoy Shenango River Lake each year. Residents and faraway travelers visit Shenango’s wooden trails and calm waters through all seasons. The reservoir offers opportunities such as hiking, camping, fishing, disc golf tournaments, paddle sports on the water, and dirt bike riding on a 200-acre all-terrain vehicle park, and more.
“It’s an awesome place to work and serve the public,” said Brian Serafin, a maintenance mechanic at Shenango River Lake. “Shenango has so much to offer that no two days are ever the same.”
The Pittsburgh District completed the dam that formed the Shenango reservoir in 1965. Congress authorized the construction through the Flood Control Act of 1938.
Shenango is one of 16 flood-control reservoirs within the Pittsburgh District. Since its construction, the Shenango Dam has prevented more than $252 million in flood damages.
A team of park rangers, maintenance workers, and a resource manager keep the dam operating, making the recreational opportunities offered by the lake possible every day. Their work not only serves the public and the environment today but for generations to come.
“We love being able to make upgrades for the public,” said Serafin, who has worked at Shenango for more than 12 years.
The maintenance mechanics have two main projects coming up: upgrading the campground entrance and remodeling a restroom. Serafin has been in talks with Shenango Resource Manager Bill Spring about adding a stone wall, a water feature, lights, trees, a welcoming sign, and other items to improve the entrance, which is the first thing people see when they visit the campgrounds.
“To beautify the entrance and make it pleasing is going to impact the visitors' outlook on our campground, our team, and our organization,” Spring said.
The same can be said for the restrooms, which the team will completely remodel. They will install new sinks, showers, flooring and wall tiles.
The staff will also add more outlets to all restrooms, improving the experience for all guests. They will also increase electric access at the campsites by adding 50-amp wire and extending camping pads to encourage more visitors.
No two days are the same for the park rangers at Shenango River Lake. They are consistently contributing to the visitor’s experience by improving the grounds.
“Unpredictability is the beauty of it,” said Hannah VanOrd, a park ranger. “One day, you might be out planting pollinator plots, spreading seeds, and the next day you, might be out fixing a sign or just being out in nature.”
The rangers regularly work on cutting, replanting, or offsetting flora around the lake, bringing more native trees and flowers to the area. They will also install new playground equipment soon to add more safe play options for children.
With only four full-time park rangers, the team relies on summer hires and camp hosts who offer an extra hand during busier seasons. Camp hosts volunteer at least twenty hours a week from May through September or October to serve as the eyes and ears of the campground. Volunteers serve a vital role in preserving federal lands and resources for everyone.
“We could not keep the campground running without the help from our volunteer hosts,” VanOrd said. “There are four of us and thousands of acres to preserve.”
The camp hosts consistently show up every year with an understanding of their duties and a positive, ‘ready to go’ attitude, VanOrd said.
“Everybody takes pride in the work we do here,” said Aaron Haflich, another full-time park ranger.
“Every one of us has a special connection with nature, recreation, and public outreach. There’s a great passion that shows when people show up to work here. Their joy is radiant for this place,” Haflich said.
The team at Shenango River Lake has a diverse set of skills and passions. That diversity allows them to leverage their experiences and perspectives to serve their community better.
“Headwaters Highlights” is part of a story series to highlight every one of the facilities or teams that make the Pittsburgh District’s mission possible. Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland, and southwestern New York. It has more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood-control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects, and other projects to protect and enhance the nation’s water resources, infrastructure and environment.