Did you know the Buckeye State has one of the largest inland lakes in the Midwest? At first glance, you would think you were at Lake Erie, but Ohios Grand Lake St. Marys is a site to see rich in history as well as recreational opportunities.
Nine miles long and averaging nearly three miles wide, Grand Lake St. Marys is definitely Ohios largest inland lake. And, prior to the construction of Lake Mead and Hoover Dam in Nevada in the 1930s, this western Ohio lake held the distinction of being the largest man-made lake in the world!
I recently made my first visit to this amazing 13,500-acre lake and it was easy to see why outdoor enthusiasts flock here year round to take advantage of water skiing, fishing, pleasure boating, camping, and just plain relaxing. And why hundreds of full-time residents enjoy a placid lifestyle on the lake's picturesque 60 miles of shoreline.
To look at this grand lake today, you would never guess it was one a vast prairie wetland. Pioneer Ohioans drained the wetland and turned that portion of western Ohio into one of the richest agricultural areas in the world.
Grand Lake St. Marys, located in Auglaize and Mercer counties, is one of a dozen Ohio lakes that were hand-dug in the early 1800s to feed the state's once-thriving canal system. Along with nearby Indian Lake and Lake Loramie, it helped maintain adequate water depth in the Miami-Erie Canal, allowing commercial boat traffic to move between Lake Erie and the Ohio River.
Considered an engineering marvel of its day, it took about 1,700 laborers working for eight years at a rate of 30 cents a day (and a jigger of whiskey for malaria prevention) to build the lake.
During the mid-to-late 1800s, the lake supported an energetic commercial fishing industry. Barrels of fish were caught and shipped to markets up and down the canal. In the 1890s, the lake area experienced an oil boom. And for a time, Grand Lake St. Marys was dotted with oil derricks.
More than 1.3 million people visit the state park at Grand Lake St. Marys each year to camp, fish, swim, boat and picnic. The 216-site campground on the northeast corner of the lake offers popular camping options, including Rent-A-Camps, Rent-A-Tepees and fully furnished and heated Cedar Cabins.
Four public swimming beaches are on the lake, as are strategically located picnic areas offering panoramic vistas. Fishing is great year round with good catches of crappie, bluegill, catfish, bass and walleye reported. The lake's size and "no horsepower limit" make it ideal for water skiing and other power-boating activities.
Birding enthusiasts consider Grand Lake St. Marys a real jewel as it lies along one of North America's major bird migration routes. Ducks, grebes, swans, ospreys, egrets, herons and other species pass through the area on their way to summer and winter homes. Among the many water birds that nest on the lake are magnificent bald eagles. Eagles returned to the lake in 1996. Since then, four young have fledged from area nests.
For me, Grand Lake St. Marys was a true revelation, reminding me that there are eye-opening outdoor wonders tucked away all across our state. During your summer travels this year in Ohio, try to swing by and see one of Ohios most unique outdoor places.