Lake Herrick was created in 1982 as a recreational resource for Athens and UGA. A beach provided a place for students and families to play, and the area was popular for swimming, fishing, mountain biking, and boating. Events were held in the pavilion, and the Department of Recreational Sports staffed lifeguards and concession vendors.
Over the course of twenty years, water quality declined as a result of sediment, nutrients, and bacteria, and the University closed the lake to recreation in 2002. The trails surrounding the lake remain popular, and Rec Sports has maintained an active presence in the watershed, most notably through their challenge courses. The Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources continues to manage the lake and Oconee Forest Park as an amenity for UGA and the local community.
In recent years students from multiple disciplines have conducted research on the Lake Herrick watershed and identified sources of impairment and best management practices to remove those sources. In addition, a consulting firm has done quarterly water sampling since 2003 at several places in the watershed and confirmed the presence of contaminants. In 2015, Kevin Kirsche, Director of the Office of Sustainability, Laurie Fowler, Co-Director for Policy at the River Basin Center, and Mike Hunter, Director of Lands and Facilities for Warnell joined forces to actively pursue restoration of the Lake Herrick watershed.
On December 16, 2015 at the UGA Center for Community Design and Preservation, 19 faculty, staff, students, and Athens community members gathered for a Lake Herrick restoration planning charrette. The outcome of that meeting was a set of recommendations and cost estimate for enhancing the watershed. Subsequently, with funding from the Riverview Foundation, a committee composed of faculty and staff from UGA and Athens-Clarke County began creating a plan to restore Lake Herrick and its watershed in February. This group has also received $150,000 from Southern Company to be used toward restoration at this site.
The Ad Hoc Lake Herrick Watershed Restoration Committee received a charge from senior administrators in Warnell, Rec Sports, and Facilities Management Division, which spurred the group to prioritize five management goals of water quality, ecological restoration, recreation, experiential learning, and community engagement. With these goals in mind, the committee is working on project phasing, policies and practices, and landscape designs. Within plans to restore the watershed lies the potential to educate the UGA and Athens communities on watershed health, using the campus as a “living laboratory” to pursue the three missions of a land grant university: research, teaching, and service.
The committee’s main purpose is to provide a set of recommendations to senior administration for watershed restoration activities to enhance Lake Herrick as a valued amenity for experiential learning, research, and the potential for passive recreation again in the future. For more information, see watershed.uga.edu.