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Guest Column by Scott Switzer
It was hard work helping to lug the canoe down the long gravel road, but I was assured it would be worth it. The further we went, the steeper the old road became. My footing began to slip, and every five steps or so I would send small blasts of pea gravel in all directions. The situation may have become perilous if it were not for my surer-footed adult companions, who had conspicuously better traction considering they held the bulk of the canoe’s weight. Just as I thought I could not travel any further, the endless tunnel of trees broke wide apart to reveal a dazzling scene: an unperturbed, perfect facsimile of the surrounding land and sky – the largest lake I had ever seen.
Soon, the old aluminum canoe slid silently through the warm, still water. The sun was gently tucking itself away somewhere beyond Humes Ridge road as the woods came alive with crickets. Bullfrogs soon accompanied the evening’s performance. I was five or so, and this was my first encounter with the place that would eventually become J.B. Miller park.
Later in my youth, this wonderfully secluded place became my family’s favorite fishing spot. Full stringers of Bluegill were pulled from it with reckless abandon in the early spring; one needed only find the right spot. Once found, these spots became closely guarded secrets -- it was not until much later that I found that these “secrets” were actually common knowledge to the countless other fisherman who had been enjoying the place for years.
Nonetheless, I can still recall with great clarity the pride of a large mess of fish in the bed of our truck as we wound our way back up Waterworks road with country music from a young WNKR blaring on the radio.
J.B. Miller park, or the “Old Reservoir” as many still call it, is located on Waterworks road in Williamstown.
Its unofficial name describes its former function; it was the main water supply for the city of Williamstown before Williamstown Lake was constructed. It was officially named J.B. Miller park in honor of J.B. Miller, a former Williamstown mayor, pharmacist, and Grant County News columnist.
Despite its humble origins as a municipal water source, the reservoir has a rustic grandeur... An ancient, well-hewn quality; curiously more at home in the Adirondacks of New York than in the upper south. Years of limited human involvement have allowed the area to return to a more natural serenity. Large stands of mature hardwoods blend seamlessly with stately conifers. The characteristically calm water has an onyx opaqueness that seems to imply a limitless depth. The entirety of the basin has a peculiarly picturesque quality; when viewed from a perspective near the pier, the main expanse seems to bend slightly inwards as if viewed through through an imaginary fisheye lens.
In addition to fishing, the park offers other recreational opportunities. Canoeing and kayaking are permitted. There are several small hiking trails that connect to form a scenic 1.1 mile loop around the water. The paths are not paved and the hiking ranges from relatively easy to somewhat difficult, but it is well worth the time and effort to see some fantastic views of the reservoir not immediately visible from the main pathway.
Scattered along the edge of the reservoir are numerous park benches and picnic tables which are perfect for a quick snack or family picnic. There are several scenic footbridges that span open water and provide alternate views of the park. Finally, there is abundant plant and wildlife for the naturalist to enjoy.
To get to J.B. Miller park, take Waterworks road for about 1 mile. You will see the J.B. Miller parking lot on your left. It is important to note that the footpaths are not paved and much of the terrain is quite hilly, so wear appropriate foot wear and exercise caution when visiting the park. Have fun!