With water levels low, it's time for treasure hunting at Atascadero Lake

leallan@tcsn.netSeptember 2, 2013 

Lon Allan


Atascadero Lake is officially a mudhole.

We should take a picture and put it in all the city’s advertising efforts to draw people here and embrace it (the lake) as our mascot. “Come see our mudhole!”

I’ve been watching Atascadero Lake wax and wane for almost 50 years. There have been a number of years when the water level dropped to where we find it today, with the white fill pipe showing. I remember several years ago taking a photo of a group of birds sitting on that pipe. Many of you who remember that low level must also recall that the lake filled in what everyone called the “miracle March rainfall.” We had a couple of dry years in 1993 and ’94 but ended 1995 with just less than 40 inches of rainfall.

So it will fill up again.

But right now Atascadero has a beach.

If you lost anything in the lake over the past several decades, now is the time to go look for it.

The most spectacular search was at the hands of the late Ernie Porter, who lived in the corner house across the street from the Pavilion on the Lake. Ernie, a deep sea diver and treasure hunter, took a metal detector to the dry lakebed.

As a side note, it is in Ernie’s front yard that a piece of propeller and shaft are on display. This “prop” is supposedly from one of the seven U.S. Navy destroyers that ran aground at Honda Point near Point Arguello back in the 1920s.

On Christmas Eve in 1990, Ernie discovered a handgun beneath about a foot of mud. It was missing an ejector pin and cylinder, so Ernie went out the next day to find those missing parts. What he discovered were 13 more handguns.

After a lot of research by Ernie and his wife, Alyce, they determined that the guns had belonged to C.S. Smith, who operated a gun shop in Paso Robles. But by the time of the Porters’ find, Mr. Smith had passed away and the gun shop was long gone. They eventually found Smith’s son and other friends who remembered the burglary 30 years earlier.

Former Atascadero News writer Peg Healey wrote about the Porters’ discovery in April 1991. Peg’s story and several of the guns are on permanent display in the lobby of the new city hall.

I know two people who say they lost their class rings while water skiing in the lake.

Now’s the time to go searching for them before Mother Nature fills the lake with water once again.

Lon Allan's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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