Culler Lake Renovation




Culler Lake Renaissance

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By all accounts it was a very big deal. The date was January 7, 1940, and a shivering crowd of 2,000 citizens gathered along West College Terrace to dedicate the newly completed Culler Lake. The Maryland National Guard Band performed the national anthem in the freezing weather as steam wafted from the mouths of the assembled crowd singing along. Even the bitter cold couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm. Following a speech by Governor Herbert R. O’Conner, 3-year old Charles Culler Rhodes, the grandson of the 7-term Mayor of Frederick, unveiled the bronze plaque. It recognized Culler’s “fifteen years of distinguished and constructive public service.” The highlight of the afternoon was an exhibition by championship skaters Robin Scott and Arlene Smith from Washington, D. C. who performed on the frozen lake. An intriguing photograph of the ceremony shows young Charles Rhodes standing on the bench next to the bronze plaque. In the background is a tall Christmas tree with 2 figures posed beside it. Could they be the professional skaters that performed at the event?

Farther still in the background is Frederick High School under construction. Seventy-six years later in 2016, the scene looks much the same. Construction on a new Frederick High is underway. It seems that FHS and its neighbor are inextricably linked.

Work on Culler Lake began in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, a depression-era program to put unemployed young men to work on public projects. Steam shovels modified the course of Carroll Creek and the WPA men expanded several small spring-fed goldfish ponds into a 3 ½ acre lake we see today. The new water way not only provided recreational opportunities, it also served as a storm water impoundment pond for the expanding residential neighborhood and portions of the Hood College campus.

Many lasting memories center around Culler Lake. Boating and fishing filled the summer months and the town eagerly watched the thermometer in the winter to see if conditions were right for freezing. Once the ice was thick enough, skaters of all ages enjoyed gliding on the ice and whirling around the fountain in the center of the lake. The newspaper even reported a growing concern about overly enthusiastic play of “crack-the-whip” on the ice that resulted in too many injuries.

Over the years the lake has accumulated a thick layer of silt on the bottom from storm water runoff and decades of accumulated duck poo and other natural materials. Street salt and grit along with agricultural runoff from Carroll Creek has added excess phosphorus. This combination of increased sediments as well as warmer temperatures make it less common for the lake to freeze.

In 2011, with the help of the DeOcampo Design Collaborative, the Friends of Baker Park initiated the Culler Lake Renaissance. A series of “listening” sessions were held to solicit community feedback about the future of this cherished landmark. The goal was to transform the depression era pond into a more pleasing modern and sustainable haven by improving water quality and enhancing the overall aesthetic character of the park.

With a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Friends were able to obtain the services of Frederick Seibert Associates to refine the concept and develop an overall master plan. After study and input from the community, City staff and elected officials, a two-phased plan was developed.

Phase One, a $2.2 million project funded primarily by the City and grants from the State of Maryland, is now in progress. Substantial and generous donations by Dr. George and Carolyn Smith, Larry Marsh, and other individuals are targeted for reconstructing the iconic fountain. These upgrades will improve storm water management and enhance water quality. The deteriorating fountain will be demolished and a new fountain with dramatic lighting and a more robust spray designed by Clearwater Landscape and Nursery, will be reconstructed in the identical “wedding cake” design. The removed material from the old fountain will be used to create fish habitat. A population of catfish, sunfish, and largemouth bass, all native species, will be introduced into the lake.

Water quality will be enhanced by biological and mechanical systems that remove nutrients and sediments. Three vegetated wetlands will be created to foster the growth of microorganisms and aquatic plants to absorb excess phosphorous and nitrogen. It is expected that water flowing out of the improved Culler Lake will be significantly cleaner. In our small way, the project will help improve the downstream environment with cleaner water flowing from our watershed into the Chesapeake Bay.

A new shared-use path including 2 pedestrian bridges over the wetlands will be erected along the lake’s south shore. Other improvements include a new retaining wall along the east shore. In addition, the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek will construct a pavilion on the west shore.

Plans for a second phase are being finalized that will create additional pathways, a lakeside promenade, interpretive signage, and a new entrance plaza along West College Terrace. The Culler Memorial bench will be refurbished and its missing water fountain and sundial will be constructed.

After more than three-quarter of a century, the lake’s original design will get a well- deserved facelift. The hard surfaces of the rigid rectangle will be softened by aquatic plants and the overall effect will be more naturalistic and inviting.

On the occasion of his 90th birthday in May of 1959, Lloyd Culler remarked about the need to protect the local watershed. His concern for protecting the environment is even more urgent today. The Culler Lake Renaissance expands and modernizes the actions of a previous generation. It’s a testament of this community’s continuing conservation heritage and the desire to pass this legacy to another generation. Like the excitement evident at the dedication in 1940, this 21st century revitalization of Culler Lake is another big deal.




Culler Lake Bathymetry: Potential Changes Following Dredging

Provided by: 
Spring 2013 Sampling Methods Class: J. Bruland, M. Dybala, N. Gunther, A. Hoffman, J. Jones, L. Kelley, J. Neidinger, M. Olszewski, C. Rogers, A. Waldron Department of Biology, Hood College, 401 Rosemont Avenue, Frederick, MD 21701 

Download Full Study As A PDF


Lake Depth:
We recorded both the soft and hard bottom measurements throughout Culler Lake. Soft bottom measurements are the depths from the water surface to the top of the sediment layer. Hard bottom measurements are the depths from the water surface to the constructed base of the lake bottom, as indicated by a section of PVC pipe being forced as deeply as possible into the sediment. The difference between these two measurements is an indication of the depth of the sediment. Depth readings were recorded over eleven transects spanning the length of the lake. GPS was used to record five to seven waypoints along each transect.

Inflow and Outflow Measurements:
To measure the flow of water into and out of Culler Lake, several readings were taken. We measured the flow at the input pipe from Carroll Creek. The outflow was measured where the lake waters re-enter Carroll Creek. The water flow was recorded in feet per second. To calculate cross-sectional area, we also measured pipe diameter, the maximum water depth, and the width of the waterline within each pipe.

Creating Maps:
We created maps using data collected from Culler Lake and geographical information systems (GIS) software.

  • A base map of Culler Lake was downloaded from ESRI’s ArcOnline World Imagery server.
  • The lake shoreline was drawn to provide a baseline reference for subsequent data addition.
  • The locations of depth measurements were determined using a hand-held global positioning system (GPS) Some points were not correctly recorded by the GPS unit and later had to be plotted in relation to where they were drawn on a field map.
  • Using soft- and hard-bottom lake depths, depth contours were hand-drawn for each map.
  • Using these maps as a guide, we created GIS-based maps for both soft- and hard-bottom contours.

Figure 1. Map of stormwater drainage into Culler Lake. The red line indicates that drainage area. The yellow lines and symbols denote drains and underground piping for stormwater. Note that a portion of this area collects water for Culler Lake and that a portion of the stormwater is discharged directly into Carroll Creek.

Figure 1. Map of stormwater drainage into Culler Lake. The red line indicates that drainage area. The yellow lines and symbols denote drains and underground piping for stormwater. Note that a portion of this area collects water for Culler Lake and that a portion of the stormwater is discharged directly into Carroll Creek.

Figure 2. Map of Culler Lake indicating sampling points and their corresponding soft and hard bottom water depths.Figure 2. Map of Culler Lake indicating sampling points and their cooresponding soft and hard bottom water depths.

Figure 3. Map of Culler Lake indicating the current depth contours (i.e. the soft-bottom depth).

Figure 4. Map of Culler Lake indicating potential contours after dredging (i.e. the hard-bottom depth).

Lake Volumes:
Weight to area ratios for cut-out lake maps were used to determine lake surface area and that of each contour ≥ 4 feet. These were measured against a standard to calculate surface areas in ft2. Segment volumes for each depth stratum were then calculated using the equation below and summed for the volume of the entire lake.

V = h/3 [A1 + A2 + √(A1*A2)],

where V = volume of stratum; h = depth of stratum, A1 = area of the upper limit of the stratum; and A2 = area of the lower limit of the stratum.


Current Culler Lake Hydrology

  • The majority of the sediments are deposited in the southeastern two-thirds of the lake.
  • There was a large discrepancy between lake outflow and Carroll Creek inflow during a non-storm period.
  • The shallow nature of the lake may allow sediment re-suspension due to winds.


PowerPoint Presentation

Dredging Culler Lake 

The volume of dredged sediments, 4,610 cubic yards, would require approximately 500 truckloads of material to be removed (based upon an 9-10 cubic yard truck capacity).

  • Dredging could reduce total suspended solids at the lake outlet by reducing resuspension of sediment.
  • Given the range of current turnover time estimates, it is difficult to approximate water residence time increases after dredging.
  • There are likely to be temporary negative aesthetic and recreational impacts during the dredging.

Download Full Study As A PDF

Acknowledgements We would like to thank Friends of Baker Park and the Frederick City Departments of Public Works and Parks & Recreation for their help with this project.





Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies at Hood College Research of Culler Lake is Underway

Working under the direction Hood College Professor of Biology Drew Ferrier, Hood College students have initiated a series of research projects pertaining to Culler Lake. Projects include:

  • A bathymetric evaluation of the lake’s bottom, which is useful in understanding the shape of the lake basin and how the present-day lake compares with original grading plans from the 1930’s. This effort will be especially timely since the anecdotal reports that the lake is 4 feet at its deepest is disputed by some long-time city employees. The effort will also help gauge the depth of the lake bottom versus the thickness of lake sediment resting on the bottom.
  • Water quality and biological sampling, which will be useful in establishing a baseline for current lake water quality before the storm-water mitigation projects and other water improvement efforts begin. An analysis of phosphates, nitrogen, and solids will be included in the water-quality portion, while a determination of the amount of algae in the lake will be the focus of the biological sampling.

When necessary, students will use small inflatable rafts to take samples. Students are aiming to present preliminary findings at the Friends of Baker Park Annual meeting on May 13.




Friends of Baker Park receive $30,000 Chesapeake Bay Trust Grant

Friends of Baker Park applied for and received a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust for $30,000 for the design of a storm water mitigation plan for Culler Lake. The award was announced in late 2012, and in early 2013 Friends of Baker Park signed two agreements to begin pursuing completion of a design in 2013. First, and after careful consideration of several design firms and their proposals, the Friends selected Frederick Seibert & Associates, Inc. of Hagerstown, MD, as the design firm. Second, and with thanks to the firm for its ongoing pro-bono support, the Friends agreed to hire Morgan-Keller as a project planning advisor to assist with technical elements of the design planning and building process. Friends of Baker Park Board Member Michael Paskowsky is serving as overall project leader.

Under the terms of the grant, a ready-to-build design must be completed in 2013. Frederick Seibert & Associates, Inc. has provided three conceptual plans to the Friends of Baker Park Board, which after a meeting with the Board yielded a plan that drew upon the ideas presented. This plan, which was posted at the recent Green Neighbor Forum for attendees to see, has subsequently been shared with City of Frederick staff prior to being presented to the City Recreation and Parks commission in March.

“The importance of this generous Chesapeake Bay Trust grant in providing the catalyst for development of the storm water mitigation plan cannot be overstated,” said Friends of Baker Park President Kathy Fay, adding, “These funds, together with the expertise of Frederick Seibert and Morgan Keller, will allow us to create a plan that will dramatically improve the quality of the water entering Culler Lake from storm sewers, water already in Culler Lake, and water being pumped into Culler Lake from Carroll Creek, as well as water draining from the lake into Carroll Creek and eventually into the Monocacy River and the Chesapeake Bay.” Fay also noted that this project will help the City of Frederick in meeting its storm water discharge goals. “Our next step is raising the funds necessary to build the design,“ Fay concluded, “and we have started working with a range of residents, organizations, and agencies at the City, County, and State level to raise these monies.”