By Jean Clark
The unusually bountiful rainfalls this area experienced in spring and early summer resulted in an avalanche of water over the dam spillway of Lake Laura in Pleasant Hill. Some of the carp living in the Lake bounced down the rocks into the Wilkerson Creek below the dam. They are staying there because they can’t swim back up the rocks and they are in a pool with a too shallow exit down stream.
In 2011 Lake Laura was drained in order to plug a leaking pipe and repair the dam. It took awhile for spring rains to fill the lake to overflowing, but there was no way for fish to find their way back. Fortunately, Hugh Thomforde and wife, Rebecca Kilmer had recently moved into the home that his parents built on Upper Meadows Rd. in Pleasant Hill. Hugh spent 15 years as a farm manager and 16 years with the University of Arkansas Agriculture Extension Service. He has been advising farmers in ways to keep their ponds and lakes healthy as well as the type of fish to stock. Uplands Village, whose property encompasses Lake Laura, commissioned Hugh to purchase fish for the lake.
Acquiring 3,600 bluegill, 900 red ear sunfish, 900 channel catfish and 45 grass carp from the Hopper-Stephens Hatchery in Lonoke, AR, Hugh transported them in oxygenated bags and released them into Lake Laura in February 2012. The baby fish ate twice their weight in grass every day and they grew. Around Thanksgiving weekend that year, he introduced 900 largemouth bass into the lake. The fish are all healthy and growing, but need more time to mature and multiply. Therefore, Uplands Village announced that there is to be no fishing on Lake Laura for the 2013 season. Fishing on the lake is expected to be reopened on Memorial Day weekend 2014.
When questioned as to why the lake was stocked with sterilized six to eight-inch carp, Hugh replied, “It’s much easier to get a permit for sterile carp. Live grass carp were first brought from China to mainland U.S. by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1940s, to their research farm in Stuttgart, AR. Unexplained escapes into the wild have resulted in breeding populations in the Mississippi River and upstream, including into Tennessee. In any case, they will not breed in standing-water lakes such as lake Laura.”
Only 12 carp are known to have escaped, but there are probably more. The other species of fish that Hugh stocked do not have the same tendencies to swim down current. If other species did escape, they were probably in low numbers.
Hugh returned two, so far. He is waiting for colder weather conditions when he plans to return more. Unlike mammals, starvation is not very harmful and highly reversible with teleost fish (the most advanced of the bony fishes). Since they are cold-blooded it will be simpler to move them when early morning water temperatures drop to 45 or 50 degrees F.
There is another body of water, Lake Alice, on the Uplands Village property that has no buildings or roads around it. In the upper reaches of Lake Alice, there are areas of the lake bottom with more than two feet of accumulated non-decomposed organic muck, mainly from fallen leaves, but also from dead algae, dead animals (insects to mammals), dead tree limbs and any other living matter that ended up down there. There would be many advantages of draining Lake Alice at some future date. Subsequent oxidation and mineralization of sediments would result in greater productivity of the lake. The spillway at the west end of the dam leaks and could be repaired while drained. Draining and drying the submerged soil would greatly reduce the likelihood of mass mortalities from "pond turnover" and similar natural calamities.
Lake Laura was created in 1929 when the Frey Branch was dammed to create the lake. It was named by Dr. May Wharton in honor of a little girl named Laura, perhaps of the Frey family, who drowned in the creek. Lake Alice, was created in 1963 and both lakes were intended for the water supply in the Pleasant Hill area. In 1977, the now named West Cumberland Utility District, began purchasing water from BonDeCroft so the lakes’ waters are no longer used.
Don’t miss the annual Wharton Association Silent Auction in the Blue Barn off of Lake Road in Pleasant Hill. Hours are Thursday, Sept. 26, from 4 to 8 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.