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 early January 2024.
The city announced on Tuesday that it has retained English Construction to complete the dam removal. More details will be shared at a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Hall Campus Center’s Memorial Ballroom. The meeting will also be livestreamed on Lynchburg Water Resources’ Facebook page and on LTV.
“We are thrilled about this project and look forward to the transformation that will happen in the coming months,” said President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar. “The near-failure of the College Lake dam in August 2018 was a stark warning to our campus and our neighbors downstream that we must work together to safely remove this hazard.
“While we will miss the lake, we are excited about the academic and recreational possibilities of the wetlands ecosystem that will emerge in its place.”
Thanks to the University’s College Lake Community Memory Project that launched last year, the lake’s history will be preserved — through the memories and stories of the people who live and work nearby.
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 and displayed online in the library’s Digital Showcase.
Dr. Laura Henry-Stone, an associate professor of environmental sciences and 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, Resource Environmental Solutions LLC 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.
A version of this story was first posted in 2022, before the College Lake Dam Removal Project was postponed from 2023 to 2024.