There was once a lake proposed on the Jordan Creek in Lehigh County about 17 miles upstream from its confluence with the Little Lehigh in Allentown. The lake would have been about 8 miles long and would encompass 2 miles of Mill Creek, 6 miles of Lyons Creek and 3 other unnamed tributaries. The entire reservoir which was to be named Trexler Lake (after local philanthropist Gen. Harry C. Trexler) would have been in the townships of Lowhill, North Whitehall, Heidelberg and Weisenberg in Lehigh County. The lake and a surrounding park were to be part of the Lehigh County Parks system. Boating and fishing opportunities at the new lake would have been enormous.
By the mid-1950’s, the Philadelphia District of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers was working on a comprehensive plan (initiated in 1950) for the Delaware River Basin, but hurricanes and a Supreme Court decree caused the Corps to re-evaluate its plans.
After conducting numerous water use studies based on present and project populations and economic activities in the basin and adjacent areas, the district presented a plan to Congress in 1962. This plan envisioned the eventual construction of 58 reservoirs to meet projected demands over the next 50 years for municipal and industrial water, recreation, flood control, hydroelectric power, and related purposes. The Corps asked for authorization to construct 8 of the 19 major control structures at sites designated as Beltzville, Blue Marsh, Trexler, Tocks Island, Aquashicola, Maiden Creek, Prompton and Bear Creek.
The Tock’s Island Dam Project was planned for the Delaware River (this area is now part of Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area). The reservoir would have inundated 30 miles of the river and 30,000 acres of the river valley with water. Fierce opposition from local residents, geologists and environmentalists stopped the project.
Tocks Island was not the only proposed project that experienced opposition in the 1970’s. Another component of the Delaware River Basin Comprehensive Plan was the construction of Trexler Dam on Jordan Creek, a tributary of the Lehigh River. This dam, which was to be located approximately eight miles northwest of Allentown, would provide flood control, water supply, and recreational opportunities to the area.
Trexler was proposed as an eight-hundred-foot-long concrete structure, although the Corps later decided to make it an earth-and-rock-filled embankment. Trexler would have cost approximately $10 million and would store 55,000 acre-feet of water, of which 40,000 acre-feet would be used for water supply, with the balance set aside for flood control.
By February 1971, the Philadelphia District had completed a general design memorandum for the dam, and in 1973, it published an environmental impact statement. Other options were explored (including no construction, placing the dam elsewhere, building a series of small reservoirs, or regulating floodplain development); the Corps determined that the Trexler Lake Project was the best way to fulfill the flood control, water supply, and recreational needs of the area.
The district initially proposed beginning construction of Trexler Lake in 1973. However, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) considered Tocks Island and Blue Marsh Dams higher priorities than Trexler, and Congress appropriated no funds for Trexler in fiscal years 1974 through 1977. After the DRBC voted not to continue with the construction of Tocks Island Dam in 1975, its members decided to push the building of Trexler Lake into a 1977 appropriations bill. Congress did appropriated $300,000 to begin land acquisition for the project. Even back then, President Jimmy Carter promised to include $1.5 million for the beginning of construction in an appropriations bill for fiscal year 1978.
Much like Tocks Island, however, Trexler faced opposition from local residents and environmental groups, such as the Northwest Lehigh Citizens Association, which feared that the dam would be an environmental disaster.
In 1976 and 1977, the Philadelphia District held a series of public meetings in Lehigh County to explain more about the Trexler Project. In addition, on April 14, 1977, the district held a hearing to obtain input on the project. Few supporters showed up, while over five hundred opponents wearing green T-shirts with “Damn the Dam” printed in big yellow letters were present.
Because of the heavy opposition to the dam, Congress voted to delete the Carter administration’s promised $1.5 million infusion for construction of the dam. The North Atlantic Division of the Corps recommended that the Philadelphia District halt its work and in 1978 Trexler Lake was designated as an “inactive” project.
When Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, it officially deauthorized construction of the Trexler Lake Dam putting an end to the proposed recreational area.