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The Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains are spectacular for many reasons, and Beltzville Lake is one of them. Located in the southern foothills of these famous Pennsylvania mountains, Beltzville Reservoir is home to spectacular vistas and myriad activities. In a mountain setting like that of the Poconos, it's more common to see water in the form of a rushing brook, or perhaps a waterfall emerging from a rocky face. Finding a large body of water is rare and none is more rare than the Beltzville Lake. Built by the Army Corps of Engineers to control flooding and to provide for recreation and water supply in the Lehigh Valley, the 949-acre reservoir calls visitors like a welcoming beacon. Although the Army Corps of Engineers controls the dam, they have leased control of the recreational areas to the State of Pennsylvania in order to maximize use of the lands and water for the enjoyment of the public.
Beltzville Lake, part of the Lehigh River Basin created by damming the Pohopoco Creek, provides the medium for a wide variety of water sports. Although there is a 45 mph speed limit on most of the reservoir, a special area is set aside for waterskiing away from casual boaters and swimmers. There is plenty of public access, as the 2,972-acre Beltzville State Park encloses much of the northern shore and all of the southern shore of the finger-like lake. Within its confines, nearly all recreational activities can be enjoyed by the public, each according to their season.
At only one-and-a-half hours from Philadelphia and two hours from New York City, Beltzville Lake has quickly become popular with day visitors. Accessed from US 209 off the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension, boaters may head to the south shore's two-lane launch ramp and parking for cars and boat trailers at Preacher's Camp launching area. Seasonal mooring for canoes is available here also. On the north side of the reservoir, accessible from Pohopoco Drive, is another public access boat launch, swimming and picnicking areas, rest rooms, concession stand, first aid station, park office and interpretive center.
Farther down the shore, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Wildlife Management Area controls many acres. These areas are open to licensed hunting in season and are visited by migrating birds thoughout the year, making it an excellent spot for viewing wildlife. Farther yet to the east, the Beltzville State Park lands encompass both Wild Horse Cove and Pohopaco Cove. This area is a favorite of cross-country skiers in the winter. Fifteen miles of hiking trails encompass much of the south shore. Saw Mill Trail, just west of the dam, has remains of a gristmill raceway, a dam and gateways, small ponds, a slate quarry from the 1700s, a wetland and a stream. Maps are available from the Park Ranger Station at the north shore access area.
Fishermen enjoy casting a line into Beltzville Lake in nearly every season. A boat rental concession is available west of the swimming beach that rents paddleboats, pontoons, kayaks, and small and large motorboats. The lake is stocked with both warm-water and cold-water game fish and panfish. Favorite species are trout, striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, chain pickerel and perch. Below the dam, Pohopoco Creek is stocked with trout. East of Pohopoco Cove, Pohopoco Creek is a productive trout stream. Both are favorites with fly fishermen. Although the lake is relatively deep, there are high ridges even in the middle of the lake where water may be only a few feet deep, providing for the variety of fish available for the catching. Ice fishing is limited to areas away from the dam where the ice is likely to be more stable. Ice fishing is not monitored, so ice anglers are warned to take care.
One of the largest events every August in Lehighton is the "Bike Night" featuring 28,000 plus motorcycles. Within a short drive is Lehigh Gorge State Park. A major attraction of the park is whitewater boating. This section of the Lehigh River is Class III whitewater and is popular for rafting, kayaking and canoeing. In the winter, snowmobiling is a popular pastime.
For some off-water exploration, the town of Jim Thorpe, 10 miles away, is a veritable treasure trove of history and a must-visit location. High-purity anthracite coal, or the black diamond as some called it, was discovered in the Poconos early in the 1800s. A near black-gold rush was on to this area 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Vast fortunes were made in the area for a few; 13 millionaires lived on one street at one time in Mauch Chunk, as Jim Thorpe was originally named.
The coal miners, some as young as seven and primarily immigrants, lived a miserable existence in company towns. One of these mining villages is preserved in Eckley Miners Village, only 35 miles from Beltzville Lake. A working mine, the No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum is available for tours and history 10 miles from Jim Thorpe. Also from Jim Thorpe, one can board the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway for a rail tour, visit the Old Jail Museum (reputed to be haunted) and learn the history of the Molly Maguires that were hanged there: although accused of assaults and murders, it appears their chief crimes may have been union organizing. A portion of the engineering marvel, the Switchback Railway has been preserved and visitors can ride a short distance on it. Coal history driving tours are available as are tours of some of the elaborate Italianate homes of the mine owners. Those with school-age children won't want to miss this chance to immerse them in the history of a booming frontier coal mining culture and the sociological lessons it affords. Learn too the reason Mauch Chunk-a derivation of a Native American name meaning 'mountain of bears'-bought the rights to bury famed Native American Olympian Jim Thorpe in their town, hoping for a revival of faded economic fortunes. By any name, Jim Thorpe is an under-appreciated national historic treasure.
For the racing fan, Pocono International Raceway is only 26 miles from Beltzville Lake. Come for NASCAR, stay for the week. The area has several reservoirs and state parks to explore. Many of the small towns still exhibit an air of the Irish, Welsh and Cornish miners who've lived in the area for many generations.
Because no camping or rental cottages are available directly on Beltzville Lake, overnight visitors will need to find other accommodations. Private vacation rentals surround the lake, some with spectacular lake views, so check out the towns of Lehighton, Kresgeville, Jim Thorpe, and Towamensing Trails. Most towns provide all of the necessary amenities such as groceries, ice, gas and snacks.
A more complete vacation land would be hard to locate. Find a reason to visit soon. Beltzville Lake is waiting.
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