Francis E. Walter Dam

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Francis E. Walter Dam
Francis E. Walter Dam And Reservoir Side View.jpg
Official nameFrancis E. Walter Dam
LocationBear Creek Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Coordinates41°6′45″N 75°43′15″W / 41.11250°N 75.72083°W / 41.11250; -75.72083Coordinates: 41°6′45″N 75°43′15″W / 41.11250°N 75.72083°W / 41.11250; -75.72083
PurposeFlood control, water storage, recreation
StatusIn use
Opening date1961
Owner(s)United States Government
Operator(s)United States Army Corps of Engineers
Dam and spillways
Type of damEarth-fill Embankment with Rock Shell
ImpoundsLehigh River
Height (foundation)234 ft (71 m)
Length3,000 ft (910 m)
Width (crest)30 ft (9.1 m)
Width (base)1,230 ft (370 m)
Spillway typeConcrete
CreatesFrancis E. Walter Reservoir
Total capacity110,700 acre⋅ft (0.1365 km3)
Catchment area289 sq mi (750 km2)
Francis E. Walter Dam Flow Management Plan

The Francis E. Walter Dam is an embankment dam located in Bear Creek Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Constructed in 1961 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, it spans the Lehigh River at its confluence with the tributary Bear Creek, creating the Francis E. Walter Reservoir. Although the dam was originally constructed for flood management, its reservoir has since become a popular recreational area for fishing, kayaking, and boating. It was originally called Bear Creek Dam, but was renamed in 1963 after United States Congressman Francis E. Walter.[1][2][3]


Information sign at the Francis E. Walter Dam

Before construction[edit]

The land on which the dam is built was originally owned by Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, a vertically integrated company that mined, processed, and transported anthracite coal throughout Pennsylvania. LC&N originally purchased the land with the intention of building hydroelectric dams along the river, but the federal government later condemned the land and bought it from LC&N to build the Francis E. Walter Dam.[4]

Prior to construction of the dam, the Lehigh River was subject to regular massive flooding as a result of large ice dams breaking apart after heavy rain, abruptly releasing all the water built up behind them. The resulting wave would be as high as 30 feet, destroying anything caught in its path. The most famous flood occurring as a result of this phenomenon was in 1861, when ice and timber caught in the wave destroyed dams and locks on the river, flooding settlements several hundred feet from the river's normal bounds.[4]

Authorization for recreation[edit]

In November 1988, Congress passed, and President Reagan signed, the Water Resources Development Act of 1988, which directed the Secretary of the Army to prepare to regulate the Francis E. Walter Reservoir, among other areas, for recreational purposes.[5] Since the dam was originally constructed only for flood management purposes, the federal government lacked the authority to manage the reservoir as a recreational area, despite it already attracting visitors for that purpose. After authority was granted, the federal government was able to staff the area with rangers.[6]

In 2005, the Philadelphia District USACE, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Delaware River Basin Commission, and other stakeholders entered into a partnership to plan water releases so they would simultaneously serve the flood management purposes of the dam and facilitate popular activities like whitewater rafting and fishing. The partnership develops a flow management plan each year that regularly releases water in the summer for whitewater rafting and stores water in the fall and spring to benefit fish populations in the reservoir.[6]


Boating, kayaking, and canoeing[edit]

There are two separate launch points into the reservoir, one for motor boats and one for kayaks and other human-powered watercraft. Motor boats are limited to 10 horsepower (7.5 kW), so popular water sports like water-skiing aren't feasible in the reservoir.[7]


Fishing is a common activity at the dam, both in the reservoir and the Lehigh River it feeds. Species commonly caught include trout and smallmouth bass.[7] The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regularly stocks the Lehigh River at the dam with brown and rainbow trout raised in hatcheries at the end of winter to shore up fish populations.[8]

Other recreation[edit]

  • Multiple fields for baseball, soccer, a disc golf course, and other sports; they are located near the dam.[9]
  • The dam is surrounded by Pennsylvania State Game Lands (where licensed hunters can harvest deer, turkey, and other game).[9]
  • Other activities enjoyed by visitors include hiking and picnicking.[9]
Francis E. Walter Reservoir and Dam


  1. ^ "Francis E. Walter Dam Flow Management Plan". United States Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  2. ^ "USGS 01447780 Francis E. Walter Reservoir near White Haven, PA". USGS. Retrieved 26 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Public Law 88-56". Act No. H.R. 5367 of 8 July 1963 (PDF).
  4. ^ a b Al Zagofsky (30 July 2010). "The heart that keeps the Lehigh River alive". Times News Online. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  5. ^ 100th Congress (1988) (February 26, 1988). "S. 2100 (100th)". Legislation. Retrieved March 24, 2018. Water Resources Development Act of 1988
  6. ^ a b United States Army Corps of Engineers (11 Dec 2012). "2". Dams, Basin Planning, and Flood Risk Management (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  7. ^ a b Zlomek, Joe (11 May 2015). "At Walter Dam, Serenity ...And A Fish Or Two". Sanatoga Post. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  8. ^ Venesky, Tom (12 March 2017). "Volunteers brave cold weather to prep for trout season". Times Leader. Retrieved 1 August 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Zagofsky, Al (20 May 2007). "Dam creating its own whitewater". Pocono Record. Retrieved 1 August 2017.