Kaercher Creek Park is a 185-acre recreation area near Hamburg. Named for Martin Kaercher Jr., who founded the borough of Hamburg, the green space and fishing area is the result of a flood control project to tame Kaercher and Mill creeks, which run through the borough.
Potentially one of the crown jewels of our community’s recreation spots, it was abandoned by Berks County in 2014 when commissioners cancelled the lease, citing liability concerns over battery waste left from a previous manufacturing plant. They did this despite having spent plenty of taxpayer dollars on a building the commissioners ordered constructed to be used for recreational and educational purposes.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) owns the land, but they have no mandate to operate a government-administered park. So, it became overgrown and dilapidated. But the community didn’t want to abandon it. Citizen groups formed to take care of the overgrown weeds, playing fields and removing vegetation to ease access to the PFBC boat ramp.
Interest within the community to bring a prime recreation area to fruition was, and still is, very strong. Cabelas/Bass Pro Shops was very interested in having a public fishing site near their Hamburg store and citizen community groups remain willing partners. So, I saw the lake as a perfect opportunity for a public/private partnership that would benefit everyone.
Soon, an effort was put together to remediate the park to remove Berks County Commissioners’ “concerns.” When all was said and done, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and PFBC all signed off on the testing and documentation establishing there is no longer any health hazard, and the park could move towards the dream everyone had for it.
Cabelas even contributed for free two $15,000 mowing machines and is still willing to expand the partnership to tens of thousands of dollars.
Everything was on track; the finish line was almost there. But, during a meeting in August 2021, the county commissioners – citing extensive costs to local taxpayers and lawsuit worries – continued to refuse to take any ownership of the park again, demanding that Berks County be provided with complete immunity from any lawsuit.
As a sportsman, I began to investigate this when the commissioners suddenly shut park down to the public in 2014. Now, as chairman of the House Game and Fish Committee, I have followed up with all the agencies involved to see if this dream could still be a possibility. Every entity in the original partnership is still willing to move forward except Berks County Commissioners.
In fact, I found out that Berks County is the only county in the entire state to refuse such an agreement blessed by every state and federal agency with any oversight on the issues involved. A PFBC official told me, “David, there isn’t a single place in the state that has declined this type of partnership and level of testing and remediation.”
So, let’s review. Berks Commissioners are concerned for cost and liability. The PFBC says the beautiful building they used taxpayer money to build, must now be torn down at the expense of our sportsmen and sportswomen who purchase fishing licenses and pay boating fees. Why? Because not only did Berks Commissioners abandoned a public investment, they didn’t even winterize the building. And now it has deteriorated to the point where it needs to be removed.
Before releasing this news, I thought it prudent to make certain the Berks County Commissioners have not changed their mind. In the past few days, I received confirmation from the county solicitor that the decision would not be reversed.
So, there you have it. The normal functions of local and county government, roads, sewer, parks, seem beyond the management abilities of our county commissioners. Yet, unable to run a park, they are set on taking over the Reading Airport as self-proclaimed aviation storage, maintenance, training and refueling professionals which is going to cost taxpayers more money due to an unnecessary lawsuit.
Fishing in the wrong pond indeed.
Representative David Maloney
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Charles Lardner