A boon to fishing at Conowingo

Utility company begins work on $4 million wharf near dam on the Susquehanna

August 24, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

By next spring, anglers will likely cast their lines into the Susquehanna River from a $4 million fishing wharf now under construction near Conowingo Dam.

Exelon Power, the utility company that operates the Conowingo Hydroelectric Station on the river, has launched construction of an expansive walkway with wide steps leading to the beach at the base of the dam. The area has long been a favorite fishing spot, especially when the shad run in the spring. The design even includes suggestions from the American Shad Club.

Construction, undertaken by Nascon Inc., an Eddystone, Pa., contractor, will enhance the area leading to the beach with broad concrete steps, spacious enough to handle an angler and his fishing gear, and accessible walkways.

When the crest gates of the dam are open, the beach will likely be submerged. But anglers will still be able to cast their lines from the concrete steps.

"This project opens the outdoors to a lot of people," said Merrie Street, Exelon spokeswoman. "The dam is really one of the area's hidden jewels."

Steps and a sloped walking path will run from a paved parking area, well above the beach. The project includes kiosks filled with information on the area's wildlife, flora and fish as well as a history of the dam, which was built in 1928. The trail to the wharf, landscaped with mature trees, also connects the site to Susquehanna State Park.

As they make their way down to the river, visitors might want to linger on the 160-foot-long, railed lookout pier for a relaxing lunch or a bird-watching session. The river banks are home to eagles, herons and osprey. A leading bird expert plans two workshops this fall at the site. Dennis Kirkwood will discuss song birds Oct. 18 and will lead an eagle watch Dec. 6.

The dam for years afforded anglers fishing from its catwalk. But in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, security needs forced Exelon to close the catwalk to the public. Ever since, the company has worked on recreational alternatives, Street said.

"We have looked at ways to keep recreation open to the public without compromising safety and security," Street said.

Exelon is considering several recreational projects in cooperation with Harford and Cecil counties, and towns along the river. Earlier this summer, the power company opened a $117,000 walking trail on the Cecil County side of the river, the first of several projects. The half-mile Octoraro Creek trail meanders through a forest to what Cecil anglers call one of the best fishing spots on the river. The path affords easy river access to hikers, fishers and kayakers.

Across the river, the fishing wharf is under construction, with a formal groundbreaking set for 10:30 a.m. tomorrow. The company will also share its plans at a community day at the Conowingo Pool on Route 1 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday. Admission and refreshments are free, and the event includes activities for children.

For anglers who prefer the Harford side of the river, Exelon expects to keep fishing open during construction or at least as long as safety allows, Street said. Crews have installed temporary wooden steps to the beach at a safe distance from the construction site.

"Fishing should not be hampered," Street said. "We have spots on both sides."

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