In just a few months, College Lake will be transformed into a thriving wetlands ecosystem — at least that’s the ultimate goal. First, the city of Lynchburg, in partnership with the University of Lynchburg, will begin draining the water and removing the high-hazard dam. That process is slated to start in late January 2023.
While the lake will soon disappear, its history remains — in the memories and stories of the people who live and work nearby. The recently launched College Lake Community Memory Project will allow the University to archive, display, and share those stories.
Anyone can submit an oral history (via video or audio recordings), photos, or written documents, and all submissions will become part of Knight-Capron Library’s archives.
Dr. Laura Henry-Stone, an associate professor of environmental sciences and sustainability and director of sustainability, began collecting oral histories with her students in 2016. She’s excited about the project.
“When I first became a faculty member at Lynchburg in 2012, I lived on Faculty Drive and had a view of College Lake out my backdoor,” Henry-Stone recalled. “Most days, I walked to my office, which meant crossing the lake on the dam and then walking the trail along the lake before heading up the hill to the main campus.
“I was developing my own relationship with the lake, while also learning about its history and ecology. As I walked, I frequently daydreamed about ways to reconnect community members with the lake and capture some of the memories from people who knew it decades ago. So, this project is the fruition of a dream that started for me 10 years ago.”
Since it was built in 1934, College Lake has served not just as a recreational area, but also as an outdoor laboratory for students and faculty — and it will continue to serve that purpose, Henry-Stone said.
Once the dam is removed, teams will work to restore the lake bed into a healthy habitat with a creek and wetlands. During the process and beyond, University of Lynchburg students will have opportunities to take part in environmental studies and hands-on projects.
“Students have already participated in multiple ways to conduct research about College Lake,” said Henry-Stone, who has been working closely with city officials. “Some have helped gather oral histories and archival material.
“Others have conducted water quality studies with Dr. Tom Shahady, while some worked with me to install and monitor groundwater wells with support from the Virginia Academy of Sciences. Communications students even helped plan and host a forum on campus last spring for attendees to learn more about the project.
“There are so many possibilities for students from different majors to participate in this experiential learning opportunity moving forward.”
Learn about the College Lake Dam Removal Project, including a look at the lake’s history and plans for its future, or view the University’s digital archive of College Lake photographs and other documents.