When it Comes to Water Recreation … Size Does Matter
Grand Lake St. Marys article from a past edition of OhioTraveler
This year make plans to check out Ohio’s LARGEST inland lake, Grand Lake St. Marys. At 13,500 acres, this grand lake invites you to enjoy its vast expanse for water recreation fun. There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a visit to Grand Lake St. Marys — fishing, swimming, boating, skiing, tubing, picnicking, eagle watching and camping—just to name a few. Many visitors also say they find its historic past intriguing.
Located near the summit of the Miami and Erie Canal, the lake was constructed as a reservoir to maintain the water level of the northern half of that waterway. Grand Lake St. Marys, 17,500 acres at its completion in 1845, was the largest man-made lake in the world. It is still the largest one built without the use of machinery. The workers used shovels, pick axes and sleds pulled by mules to move the earth and dam the sides of a low lying area to create the lake. German and Irish immigrants were paid 31 cents a day and given a jigger of whiskey for their daily labor. At the time it was thought that the whiskey helped ward off malaria carried by the hordes of mosquitoes in the swampy area. The construction of Grand Lake St. Marys took eight years at a cost of more than $600,000.
Initially the lake was not created for recreation. Commercial enterprises on the early reservoir included ice harvesting—remember this was prior to electricity and refrigeration, commercial fishing and for a short period of time the lake was also dotted with oil derricks. In fact, Grand Lake St. Marys was the site of the first off shoring oil drilling rigs in the world.
The railroads ended the need for the canals in the early 1900’s and people began using Grand Lake St. Marys for more recreational purposes. At one time a large amusement park was located on the east side of the lake, a concert and dance hall was located in the north west corner and numerous cabin and camping resorts and church camps could be found along the lake’s 52 miles of shoreline. Grand lake St. Marys became an Ohio State Park in 1949.
Today Grand Lake St. Marys State Park consists of nearly 600 acres of prime lakeside parkland. You fill find numerous trails and walkways, great access to fishing, swimming beaches, picnic amenities, bird watching and a large off-leash dog park. Check out the three lighthouses that grace the lake. During the summer, there are lakeside concerts each weekend, as well as festivals, events and hydroplane racing that bring crowds to the water’s edge. You truly don’t want to miss the events featuring fireworks over the lake, watching from land or boat, they are spectacular.
The Greater Grand Lake St. Marys Region makes a wonderful weekend getaway destination. With a state park campground, private campgrounds, cabins, cottages & hotels right on the lake, visitors can find accommodations ranging from posh to primitive. There are over a dozen restaurants, bars and clubs on the lake with docks, making them accessible to boaters. Don’t have a boat? Many of those same establishments offer patio lakeside seating for a great view f the water.
If you bring your boat, be sure to take advantage of the four boaters’ beaches, those are a great place to socialize with other boaters. Grand Lake St. Marys has no horsepower restriction for boats and features six full service marinas and seven free public launch ramps. Wakeboarding, Skiing and tubing are popular activities. You will also see numerous kayaks, sailboats and personal watercraft sharing the water with speedboats and pontoons. Boat rentals are available.
Fishing is another very popular activity on Grand Lake St. Marys. Sport fishing species in the lake include bass, crappie, perch, bluegill, catfish and walleye. Adjacent to the lake is one of the state’s six fish hatcheries and you will find a waterfowl refuge area and wetlands nature observation decks on its south side. With a little luck you may catch sight of one of the four resident bald eagles that have made a permanent home on the lake.
While visiting the Greater Grand Lake St. Marys Region you may want to check out historic Fort Recovery, the Bicycle Museum of America and the Miami and Erie Canal Lock One in New Bremen or the numerous antique shops, quaint eateries and The Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta. You will find plenty of fun and interesting options for a great getaway when you check out Ohio’s largest inland lake this year. For more information log onto www.SeeMore.org.