December 1, 2021

Renewed Hope

Hope Lake in Virgil repaired after 2017 flooding

Todd R. McAdam/contributing photographer

A mound of dirt lies Friday on the northwest corner of Hope Lake in Virgil. The town dredged the man-made lake last fall and made other repairs to allow the park’s swimming area to open this season, the first after flash floods in 2017 dumped tons of silt into the lake.

Jereme Stiles chuckled. Two years after Hope Lake Park flooded, the volleyball courts are in use, the swimming area opened and the town of Virgil did much to regain the park, which was devastated by storms in mid-July 2017.

But when asked if it was back to normal, Stiles, the deputy town supervisor, laughed.

“Everything needs maintenance: your car needs maintenance all the time,” Stiles said. “It’s just one of those things that we understand now moving forward.”

Two to three inches of rain per hour in July 2017 caused major flooding across Cortland County and Central New York and rushed silt and gravel into the lake. The town of Virgil has spent the past two years working to revitalize Hope Lake Park.

With the major cleanup behind them, the town has shifted to a plan to provide maintenance to the park yearly and potentially prevent future damages. The park is set to open for the season this weekend.

After the flood, repairs were estimated at $500,000, a number Stile said the town could not afford. The Federal Emergency Management Agency declined to provide disaster aid.

The town took money from its community development fund, which is typically reserved for funding things such as beautification projects and business loans, rented an off-road dump truck, an excavator and a bulldozer, assigned three to four highway workers and got to work.

The lake normally has a depth of 19 feet, but after the storm, town Highway Superintendent Britt Morse said the bottom of the lake had filled with nearly 15 feet of material, leaving only 4 feet of water. Using the rented equipment, the town dredged the lake last fall, Morse said, returning it to its original depth, or “as close as (they) could,” Morse said.

Two years after flash floods dumped tons of silt and sand into Hope Lake, the town has dredged the bottom and made other repairs to allow the swimming area to re-open. Among repairs are dredging that restored shoreline on the lake’s eastern edge and repaired culverts and streambanks washed out in the flood.

After the lake was drained, the park moved to prevention methods and rebuilt the bank, which allowed the debris to flow into the lake. Stiles said the town installed large rock at the base of the bank and built a concrete block that slowed the flow of the stream into the lake. Between the rock, workers seeded the barrier with grass to keep silt and rock from getting through.

They also built ditches around the perimeter, which are used to prevent water flow. Morse said after the storm in 2017, water coming down from the hills above the walkway covered the walkway in mud. Barring another storm, he considered the ditch dug by the walkway a “complete” fix.

“If it’s a slow rain,” Morse said, “you won’t notice it.”

The large rock, which Stiles said was one of the bigger expenses, is being added to each year as the town opted to spread its work over several years. Stiles chuckled when reminded of the $500,000 figure, and he said the town didn’t pay “anything near that.” He estimated the town paid “$50,000 or less,” and on a year to year basis is only required to pay “a couple thousand” for maintenance.

Recent work attempts to beautify the park: stain the wood buildings, replace the gate and dump new sand onto the beach.

Still, Stiles knows another storm can wash it all away.

“The dream scenario would be Mother Nature works with us,” he said, laughing. “We’re going to try to chip away at it every year. It’s one of those things where you got to look at it from a financial standpoint. It kills us, but you got to figure out how to do a little bit each year.”