A Year in the Life of Chicopee Lake

Editor’s Note: Don Lane, Elachee Teaching Naturalist and retired environmental scientist will provide insight, each month throughout 2022, about different environs in, and around Chicopee Lake, located in Georgia’s Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, in south Hall County.

On the far side of the 1,440-acre Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is Chicopee Lake. While referred to as a lake, this body of water is more ‘pond-like’ as it has neither the depth nor surface area commonly associated with lakes. In fact, on many maps and on Google Earth, the man-made Chicopee Lake is referred to as ‘Reservoir One.’

There has been some debate on who constructed Chicopee Lake, but the most popular (and likely) scenario is that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) constructed it as a sediment control structure. The NRCS – formerly known as the Soil Conservation Service or SCS – is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a mission to conserve the nation’s soil and water resources.

Journal Entry: January 2022

Focus on the Black Willow Riverbank Shrubland Plant Community

The area surrounding Chicopee Lake contains several different plant communities. Introducing A Year in the Life of Chicopee Lake, for January the focus is on what some call the ‘mud flats,’ or more commonly referred to as a Black Willow Riverbank Shrubland. This temporarily flooded shrubland area is above Chicopee Lake. While not a natural environment, it is an important habitat within the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, one of Georgia’s largest protected and most ecologically diverse green spaces.

This shrubland environment has been created over the years by the accumulation of sediment in Chicopee Lake.  As there is less volume that can be utilized for water storage, water in the lake backs up into this low area during times of high precipitation. 

What makes this shrubland unique? The plant species currently residing in the area are ones that are ‘flood tolerant.’ In fact, some require periodic submerging of their roots to thrive making conditions ideal for this plant community.

The shrub layer is dominated by black willow (Silax nigra), but also includes box elder (Acer negundo) and red maple (Acer rubrum).  Black alder (Alnus serrulata), American hazelnut (Corylus americana) and blackberry (Rubus argutus) dominate layers just below the shrub layer. The herbaceous layer, also called the groundcover layer is barely visible during the winter months because many of the plants in this layer ‘die-off’ in the winter and re-emerge in spring. Grasses and ferns make up the visible ‘greenery’ here during the winter. 

Should the decision be made in the future to dredge or otherwise remove the accumulated sediment in Chicopee Lake, thus increasing its water storage volume, this environment could cease to exist. Sediment removal would lessen the frequency of flooding in the area. Reducing the frequency of flooding would allow flood intolerant species to populate the area and out-compete the flood tolerant plants. 

While this habitat is not directly accessible by the hiking trail system, hikers can view the shrubland environment from the east side of the Lake Loop Trail (prior to descending into the bottom land area of Boulder Rock Creek). The east side of the Lake Loop trailhead is on the right if facing the lake. Hikers may access the Lake Loop Trail from the parking lot at Chicopee Lake, 2100 Calvary Church Road, Gainesville, GA 30507. The Chicopee Woods Hiking Trails are open daily to the public from 7 a.m. to sunset.