After a year of intensive planning and design work, the University of Georgia will begin construction next month within the Lake Herrick watershed to enhance water quality and reopen the lake to the public for recreation in fall 2018.

"This is an exciting moment for our university community and the broader Athens area," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. "This project will not only improve and protect one of the most beautiful natural areas on this campus but also create new opportunities for recreation, research and experiential learning." 

Initial construction will involve two phases with a completion target of summer 2018. The first phase will focus on improving water quality within the watershed by revitalizing the upper pond, which acts as a stilling basin to prevent sediments and pollutants from passing downstream to Lake Herrick and the North Oconee River. This phase will include removing more than 50 years of accumulated sediment, replacing invasive plant materials with native flora and installing multiple stormwater control measures, among other improvements.

The second phase will expand recreational opportunities at Lake Herrick by improving conditions around the pavilion area. A lakeside lawn for passive recreation and events will be developed, and a stepped dock will be constructed for launching canoes and kayaks in the lake. A lakeside walking and running trail also will be installed in the second phase.

This project, announced by Morehead during his 2016 State of the University Address, has developed through broad collaboration across UGA. An interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and students helped to define the project timeline, identify related research and experiential learning opportunities and secure private funding.

"Renewed use of Lake Herrick will provide unique outdoor learning and recreation opportunities to students and community members," according to Kevin Kirsche, UGA's director of sustainability, "hopefully inspiring healthy activity, an enhanced sense of place and a growing appreciation for the natural treasures right here on our own campus."

Private support is playing a critical role in advancing the watershed cleanup and lake-front renovation. The Georgia Power Company—one of UGA's key corporate partners—has donated $300,000 to support the project, and the Riverview Foundation also has contributed funds. The Office of the President-as the lead campus partner on the project—has allocated $250,000 in private resources toward the effort.

"Georgia Power has a longstanding history of working with UGA, and we are proud to partner with them on the restoration of Lake Herrick's watershed," said Chris Cummiskey, Georgia Power's executive vice president of external affairs. "Our commitment to this project, and others like it, reinforces our philosophy to be ‘A Citizen Wherever We Serve' and provide a sustainable environment to be enjoyed by the community today and into the future."

The Lake Herrick restoration project is one of the several strategic initiatives launched in recent years to advance campus sustainability. In 2015, UGA replaced an aging coal-fired boiler with a more cost-effective and energy-efficient electrode boiler. In 2016, UGA partnered with Georgia Power to install a solar tracking and demonstration project to offset a portion of campus energy use through on-site renewable sources and to create solar energy research and learning opportunities for faculty and students. In addition, UGA is in the process of converting one-third of its buses to electric vehicles, reducing fuel use, operating costs and tailpipe emissions in the nation's largest campus transit system.

Access to UGA's Recreational Sports Complex, Oconee Forest Park, and the Outdoor Challenge Course will be maintained during construction activities in the Lake Herrick watershed this fall. More information on the Lake Herrick project is available at https://sustainability.uga.edu/lakeherrick.

Written by: Kristen Linthicum