Updated: Dec 28, 2022
At first glance, Parker Dam State Park is a relatively small tract of public land located just east of Penfield in Clearfield County. Look closer and you’ll see that this diminutive little gem is much more: it’s a gateway to the vast expanses of Moshannon State Forest.
For what the 968-acre Parker Dam State Park lacks in size, it makes up for with opportunity. Here you can fish, boat, hike, bike, picnic, geocache, or engage in any number of activities for families and persons of all ages. Or you can simply relax and enjoy the quiet solitude the nearby wilderness has to offer.
The centerpiece of all this is 20-acre Parker Lake. Created in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the lake is a popular destination for local anglers and boaters. Every year, it receives a total of four stockings by the PA Fish and Boat Commission – three times in the spring and once in the fall.
Overall, Parker Lake is fairly shallow. Its deepest sections are located at the northeast corner of the lake, right before the spillway, and are only around 10 feet deep. A few spots along the east shore also get down to around nine feet. In summer, most of the leftover trout seek thermal refuge in these deeper holes as well as where Laurel Run flows into the lake on the southern end.
Laurel Run is also a good option for trout enthusiasts. From its headwaters to the lake, Laurel Run holds a good population of native Brook Trout. From below the spillway downstream to where it joins Abbot Run, Laurel Run is stocked twice every spring.
Parker Lake holds an abundant population of panfish. The primary species are Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, and Bullhead Catfish, all of which can be found just about anywhere in the lake. My favorite places to try, though, are along the east shore where there are more changes in water depth. There’s not a lot of woody or rocky structure in the lake, so changes in depth become very important and fish will sit in the transition zones between deep and shallow water. Also, anywhere I find weeds or lily pads I usually find fish. To be honest, though, you could probably plop down just about anywhere along the shorelines and catch fish.
Parker Lake is very accessible. The park entrance is located off of Route 153, which can be reached from the town of Penfield or directly off of Interstate 80. A road closely parallels the western shore, which as a father of two small kids, I certainly appreciate because I don’t have to haul a bunch of stuff any great distance to get to the water. It’s one of the few places where I can fish less than 20 yards from the vehicle while my son sleeps in the stroller and my three-year-old daughter plays with her dolls in the grass. And when we all need a break, we can walk the hundred yards or so to the concession stand or cool off in the swimming area.
The lake’s location makes it a popular winter fishery. The mountainous country surrounding Parker Dam State Park typically translates into prime ice fishing conditions in January and February. Some winters the ice is thick enough as early as December.
Parker Lake is restricted to electric motors and non-powered boats only.
The park and lake are named after William Parker, who leased lumbering rights in the area and built a splash dam on Laurel Run. Extensive logging throughout the region began in the 1870s, and after several rounds of cutting (first for white pine, then hemlock, and eventually the hardwoods), operations ceased in the park in 1911.
According to information found at the park office, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began buying up land from the Central Pennsylvania Lumber Company in 1930 for $3 per acre. When the Civilian Conservation Corps was established to employ young men in conservation work and offset the effects of the Great Depression, they set up camp at the intersection of Tyler and Mud Run roads. They planted trees and built roads and trails. Also, they incorporated native sandstone into the construction of the park’s many cabins, and even used it to create the current dam in place of William Parker’s old splash dam. Their handiwork is still impressive to this day.
For years, Parker Lake was one of the main fishing spots in this region. Many of the smaller streams, and even portions of the larger Bennett’s Branch of the Sinnemahoning, suffered from acid mine drainage that rendered them mostly fishless. Although conservation efforts are now recovering many of these once-polluted waterways, Parker Dam State Park remains a fixture to all those who grew up or vacationed in this area.
Since its construction almost 90 years ago, very little about the park and the lake has changed. It’s still a great place to launch a canoe or kayak, fish, explore the surrounding wilderness, or just relax lakeside and enjoy the great outdoors.