Written by Joanna Adams Sergent
Hidden away in the mountains is a lake that expands 45 acres of water and 950 acres of woodland. The pristine beauty of the lake is not disturbed by tourists, logging, or mining.
Once a strip-mined area, the now reclaimed land is one of the most picturesque lakes. Used by avid photographers and fishermen, the lake is rarely used as a camping ground. Even though the area has several places for tent and RV setups.
For years, Fishpond was one of the most well-kept secrets in Jenkins. It is two and a half miles from Jenkins, Kentucky. While the lake has not developed as planned. It is still a place where local residents come to fish, camp, and walk the scenic routes.
County officials approached Beth-Elkhorn Coal Company in 1961. The goal was to have the coal company donate land. The plan was to use this land to construct a recreational lake. Beth-Elkhorn agreed and donated 860 acres.
At the headwater, thirty-five acres belonged to a private individual. Organizations raised funds to buy this land for $3,500. The now 895 acres belonged to the County.
Location and Construction
The lake’s location is one mile west of Payne Gap, Kentucky. Two and one half miles southwest of Jenkins, Kentucky. U.S. 119 will grant access to the lake. Fishpond land came from a strip mine reclamation project. There are several places to accommodate several future projects.
A dam with a 2.5-mile loop surrounding the lake. The loop begins where the road splits at the fork. The lake would have a companion park named Little Laurel Park.
The Set Up
The State of Kentucky hired Adams Construction Company to construct the dam. The water would fill up forty-five acres of this land. A concept plan for the remaining acreage came later. The construction of the dam was complete in 1964. The state refused to deed the remaining fifteen acres surrounding the dam to the County.
The state’s refusal in giving Letcher County the deed to the land caused problems. Letcher County felt that it was no longer responsible for cleanup and upkeep. As the lake and surrounding area began to deteriorate. It became a hangout for those that wanted to destroy things.
First Cleanup Attempt
This is an article found in the Mountain Eagle “The Way We Were” Thursday, May 15, 1969. Thank you to Ella Pawley for discovering this article for us.
“A Mountain Eagle editorial praises Yale University students and local officials for working together to transform Fishpond Lake “into a model of a community park.” The editorial urges Letcher County to “take steps to make sure that its new recreation facilities are properly supervised and maintained.”
Second Cleanup Attempt
The area Jaycees became involved in the history during August of 1971. The Jaycees wanted a long-term lease on the land. The County refused to lease the land as they did not own the entire lake area.
On September 30, 1971, the state released the deed. The property went to the Letcher County Fiscal Court of Letcher County. After that point, the County now owns all the Fishpond Lake area.
An agreement was finally reached between the Jaycees and the Fiscal Court. The terms of the lease were as follows.
- Letcher County leased the lake the Jaycees. The lease would end when the state or the Jefferson National Park took over the lakes.
- The Jaycees were responsible for all upkeep and land management of the Fishpond Lake. They were also responsible for policing the area.
- According to the deed from the state of Kentucky. The Jaycees cannot charge for access to the lake. They may ask for donations for upkeep but cannot charge a fee of any kind. This hurt the upkeep of the lake and posed a financial burden upon the Jaycees.
The area Jaycees have made attempts to have the Jefferson National Forest take the lakes.
Board of Governors for Fishpond Lake
In 1971 a Board of Governors convened for decisions about the lake. John Billiter served as the first chairperson of the board from October 7, 1971, to January 15, 1972. The last recorded chairperson was Earnie Bentley. He started serving on January 15, 1972. Because of political reasons, the board added eleven members that year. No other information was available about them or even if they are still active.
On February 7, 1972, six Jaycees along with Congressman Perkins went to Washington. The purpose was to promote Fishpond Lake. They met with the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and A.R.C. (Acquisition Resource Center). A plan of action outlined plans for the lake and the goals that it would try to do. This was a twenty-year plan.
- Construction for an exhibit center that could accommodate 250 people. This will give information about coal and the forest industries. Included would be tours of the surrounding strip mines.
- There would be ten family group campsites. This area would accommodate groups such as the Boy Scouts. Restrooms, group tables, ten car parking will be available. This site should also contain space for tents and other camping equipment. These sites should be in the lower half of the lake.
- There would be several small campsites. Both group and small campsites would sit on the west side of the lake near the dam area. The spillway will provide a divider for this area from the Exhibition site. This area would accommodate thirty families.
- Transit family campsites for people passing through Jenkins. These campsites should be north of the lake and should accommodate twenty campers.
Beach and Picnic Areas
- A beach is for use of 350 swimmers and onlookers. The location is at the back of the lake. There will be a large play and sunbathing area. Parking for this area is on either side of the beach and behind the beach. The beach will be within easy walking distance to the campsites. For small children, a roped-off area with lifeguards on duty.
- A group picnic facility able to hold two hundred people
- Ten family picnic sites
- Six small picnic sites
- Construction of an observation tower. This would show the conservation of the area.
- Places for nature study.
- Removal of a slate dump area behind the beach.
Information Center and Other Perks
- An information center would sit where the mine fire once burned. The function is to welcome visitors. Pamphlets and information are available inside. These would contain services available in the towns of Neon and Jenkins.
- There will be a public telephone available for overnight guests of the lake.
- Two shower rooms constructed.
- There will be a play area for children.
- Foot trails will tie the lake together with the park.
- A road built across the spillway with a bridge.
- There will be a concession stand built. This will serve both hot and cold sandwiches, drinks, as well as fishing supplies. There will be a bathhouse constructed for swimmers and sunbathers.
Fishpond lake has a population of freshwater jellyfish. Rainbow trout, carp, and largemouth bass. Black crappie, bluegill, and channel catfish. Brown bullhead, warmouth, as well as other freshwater gamefish. , Yearly, the lake receives 6,000 trouty. These are from stockings in January, April, May, and October.
The current rules of the lake are.
- No petroleum-powered boat engines
- A valid Kentucky Fishing license
- Given the small size of the lake, electric motors, and oars are permissible on boats.
Current Camping Facilities
ATV trails are available in the park. There are twenty-two miles of legal riding trails around the lake. More plans to add to the trails at a later date than this posting. There are several campsites available with bathroom facilities. Yet, currently, there are no bathhouses. There is a fee for RVs to dump waste. The lake will close to camping rentals from November 1st through February 28th. This is due to possible inclement weather.
A Very Special Thank You
We would love to thank Gary Wright of Jenkins for his photography of the Fishpond Lake. The 1973 and recent pictures he took for the Appleshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Thank you, Gary, for sharing your amazing photos.
We would also like to thank Jason Helton from Helton Photography for his amazing photos as well. Jason, we truly appreciate you because a lot of our modern photography comes from your amazing eye. Thank you for sharing with us as much as you have.
We thank you for continuing to support Kentucky Tennessee Living. As we bring to you the history of the Appalachian Mountains.
For Further Reading on Fishpond Lake
Fish Pond Lake
History of Jenkins, Kentucky
Compiled In Honor Of The Sixtieth Anniversary Homecoming Celebration
Sponsored By The Jenkins Area Jaycees
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When we forget our past and who we are as a people, then we become who “they” say we are. ~~ David Sergent