BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – If I told you there was a place in the city of Lebanon where outdoors people could camp, would you believe me?
If I told you this camping site featured just as many bright stars as it did city lights, would you want to go there?
If I told you this sort of camping could cost a family of four less than $10 per night, would it sound too good to be true?
Actually, Stoever’s Dam Park is situated on the city of Lebanon’s northeast border with North Lebanon township. Camping is restricted to the center of the park, along the north shore of the dam, and it costs $2 per night per person, plus an additional $10 per night if you prefer electricity.
“I like the camping part of the park,” said Walter Wolfe, a Stoever’s Dam Park ranger for the past 26 years. “Since I’ve been there, I’ve seen generation after generation come to the park. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the years. I’m just glad they keep coming to the park.
Of course nothing goes with camping like boating, fishing and nature. The 153-acre Stoever’s Dam Park, which is owned and operated by the city of Lebanon recreation department – and relies heavily on the contributions of volunteers – has gotten outdoors people covered on all three accounts.
Stoever’s Dam Park is The Lebanon County destination for the annual spring ritual of ‘The Opening Day of Trout Season.’ But trout are not the only species inhabiting these waters.
“That’s our biggest time for camping,” said Wolfe. “I’m going to guess on the opening day of trout season, we get 600 people, fishing, boating and camping. I’m going to say on a good day,with runners and people exercising, we get 250 to 300 visitors. And we’re open year-round.”
Sure there’s a lot going on in Stoever’s Dam Park, none of which is more important than nature.
The park is inhabited and visited by various animals which live in and around water. Stoever’s Dam Park is also home to its informative nature barn, which helps inform visitors track the behavioral patterns of indigenous wildlife.
“We have a lot of walkers and runners,” said Wolfe. “A lot of people come to watch birds. We also have deer, rabbits, groundhogs, herons, osprey, grey-horned owls and various types of fish.
“It gives something for the local community to do,” continued Wolfe. “The closest place like it would be Middle Creek. It’s just local. It’s something you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do.”
The highlight of Stoever’s Dam Park is the one-plus-mile walking/hiking/running trail that encircles the 23-acre dam. But the park also offers two softball fields and is the former long-time home of the Lebanon Little Cedars midget football program.
Stoever’s Dam Park’s grounds also plays host to Lebanon Community Theatre.
“I think it’s perceived very well in the Lebanon community,” said Wolfe. “People enjoy it. They keep coming back. I think people are pretty much pleased with it. The campers are always happy.”
For many years before 1966, Stoever’s Dam Park went unused, before it was leased to the city of Lebanon for recreational purposes. After acquiring the park from the Bethlehem Steel company in 1971, Stoever’s Dam was drained in 1981 for the purpose of reconstruction.
“I’d like to see more kids events held there,” continued Wolfe. “Years ago they had kids events, and the kids enjoyed it. It keeps them off the streets, and it gets them to do things with their parents.”
In the late 1700s, the park was little less than a few springs on the farm of Martin Light. Then in 1821, Light’s grandson Abraham sold the farm to John Stoever, from which the dam was named.
“It’s for recreation,” Wolfe continued. “It’s for the community.”
Wolfe, along with daughter Brittany Wolfe, Ralph Earp and Larry Bender, are the four volunteer park rangers who service Stoever’s Dam Park.