Nostalgic visit to Linesville Spillway a hit

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The Linesville Spillway is home to ravenous carp. (Julie Geiss photo)
The Linesville Spillway is home to ravenous carp. (Julie Geiss photo)

My dad had an unusual request for his 75th birthday. He wanted to take his grandkids to “where the ducks walk on the fish.”

Stale bread and creepy fish are an odd combination for a birthday party, but I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Like many grandparents, he loves to watch his grandkids having fun outside.

Childhood trips

The Linesville Spillway was the highlight of many trips to Pymatuning State Park during my childhood. My mom would buy astronomical amounts of bread at the Schwebel’s Outlet Store, and then we would make the trip from Ohio across the two-mile causeway over Pymatuning Lake into Pennsylvania. My family was not alone in this adventure; many other families have passed this one-tank trip onto their younger generations as a summer tradition.

The Pymatuning Dam was completed in 1934 along the Shenango River, creating the largest lake in Pennsylvania. It’s 17,088 acres is home to many varieties of fish and waterfowl. Prior to the dam being built, farms in the area were threatened by extensive flooding. While some farmers found success in growing onions in the swamp, many others continued to suffer great losses when the area flooded.

Now the reservoir is not only used recreationally for boating and fishing, it also supplies water for the Shenango and Beaver valleys. The Linesville State Fish Hatchery is located nearby and is also supplied with water from the reservoir.

Renovation

When we arrived, I noticed it looked much different from my childhood memories. A renovation project in 2007 added a concession stand, gift shop and modern restrooms. I was also impressed that the entire area was handicapped accessible. The grounds were well-maintained and volunteers added beauty to the area with attractive beds of multicolored zinnias.

While I was admiring flowers, my kids made a beeline with bread bags in their hands to the blue rails at the edge of the reservoir. They were clearly impressed as they hurled small pieces and then whole slices of bread into the water. The greedy carp were opening their mouths rapidly in anticipation of the stale snacks. Flopping on top of each other, the voracious carp vied for the slices. Canada geese and mallard ducks joined in on the action, racing for bits of bread. I wouldn’t say we saw ducks walking on the fish — it was more like the waterfowl were scurrying on top of the gluttonous fish.

The real show

My dad encouraged the kids to move along to the bowl, what he referred to as “the real show.” The large concrete bowl connects the upper reservoir to the middle basin, allowing water to pass through and forming the perfect smorgasbord for the carp. Naturally, carp dine on aquatic worms, crustaceans, insects, algae and plant matter. When the dam was first built, the menu at the concrete bowl consisted entirely of these natural options.

However, locals started to notice the magnitude of carp thrashing inside the bowl. They tossed bread to the fish and watched the battle ensue. As word of mouth spread, the area became a tourism location.

The Spillway’s popularity has increased over the years; it is now visited by over 400,000 people a year. Currently, carp still feast on loaves of bread and whatever else visitors toss into the water. Another visitor recommended tossing bagels in because they take longer for the fish to eat.

Feed the wildlife

Pymatuning State Park is the only state park in the commonwealth that allows people to feed the wildlife. There has been some controversy surrounding this activity. In 2008, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources attempted to ban feeding fish. Apparently, some people were tossing more than bread to the fish. Chicken wings, leftover birthday cake and fruit exceeded the boundaries of acceptable cuisine for the carp. Baked goods add large amounts of phosphorus into the water and entice gaggles of Canada geese to flock to the area.

However, locals resisted the ban by contacting government officials. Due to tradition and tourism in the area, the ban was removed. Today, officials encourage visitors to purchase nutritious fish pellets on site to feed the carp, but it is permissible for visitors to bring their own loaves of bread as well.

We definitely ate the birthday cake ourselves and decided next time we would try fish pellets for the carp. While the facilities have changed, the enjoyment and nostalgia for families is still the same. We found that the enjoyment of ravenous carp spans generational lines and leaves no morsel behind.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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