If you have driven through the infamous Oakdale Merge recently, and glanced to the south, you may have noticed that the once full lake nestled between Sunrise Highway and Montauk Highway has been drained of its water. Only the stream bed that runs through the center of the pond, and a deeper pocket of water or two remain. Lots of people are asking what happened to Cuttings Pond, also known as Westbrook Pond (the land to the west was once Westbrook Farms) and what is being done about it.
I do know that State Parks and Friends of Connetquot are both involved in the issue. Apparently, the boards that make up the retaining wall of the dam collapsed, causing a sudden rush of water, some of which actually swept across Montauk Highway. The concrete that supports the dam is very old and likely in need of repair. I can only tell you that nothing has changed there since I was a kid (you can guess how many years ago that was), and that the lake was used to supply ice in the winter for the Vanderbilt Estate, so a dam existed back then also.
Given the current state of the pond, some folks are pointing to invasive plant species in the lake and believe that completely draining it will result in a healthier waterway. Prior to the dam’s collapse, the pond was home to a very healthy population of largemouth bass, yellow perch and pickerel. There are discussions underway concerning the installation of a fish ladder and raising the water level three to five feet. According to Deputy Regional Parks Director Brian Foley, State Parks has already hired a firm to make an assessment of the dam and the waterway. In the short term, temporary boards will be installed (probably by the time you read this) until the assessment is complete and a plan developed.
The installation of fish ladders in other Long Island rivers like the Peconic have revitalized those waters alewife runs. But there is also mention of the fish ladder being beneficial to native brook trout. There are a very small percentage of anglers who place very high regard on native brook trout and the preservation of these fish. But, there are a lot of other anglers who ask at what expense. It is my understanding that the native brook trout issue is at least part of the reason the upper beats of the Connetquot River within the park are not being stocked, and that brook trout are no longer being stocked because they do not want them to mix or contaminate the small native population in the upper river. This is another issue to be addressed in the future, but it begs the question at what cost and impact does restoring native brook trout come? A lot of anglers were very happy catching largemouth bass in this body of water.
Now for a little history. As a young kid back in the early 1960s, this pond was our regular stomping grounds, along with Bubbles Falls and Rattlesnake Creek. One day we arrived to find the only water left in the lake was the river bed that ran down the middle, and a deeper pool at the foot of the dam. Many bass, including a lot of would be trophy fish in the 8 to 10-pound class (the estimate of Bill Ward, the DEC officer for the area at the time) were collected in the remaining water along with panfish and pickerel. People were given the okay to snag them because Bill said they were going to die anyway. This lasted for a couple of days and then one day, all of the fish were dead. We were told that they poisoned the lake and they were going to make it a trout lake. Cuttings did receive trout stockings for a good number of years but it was not ideal trout habitat and it was eventually taken off the stocking list. The bass population rebounded and prior to the dam collapsing, the lake was producing good largemouth action. In the current collapse, it appears most of the fish in the lake were swept out by the sudden rush of water. One large pickerel was the only fish visible a few days following the dam’s collapse.