ST. MARYS, Ohio – The water quality at Ohio’s largest inland lake apparently is getting better and now the question is whether boaters, campers and swimmers will return.
Efforts over the past several years to clean up Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio have paid off, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The water has significantly improved, the state said, through a variety of changes including dredging the lake bottom and treating the water to stop toxic algae from developing. But park officials also say they still expect to battle less harmful algae that has been a problem for much longer.
Cleaning up the lake been a big priority for the state since 2010 when a toxic algae bloom forced environmental officials to urge visitors not to touch the water or eat fish caught there. Boaters were warned to stay away too.
Hotels, campgrounds and restaurants that rely on lake visitors took a huge hit.
The state has greatly increased the amount of sediment removed from the lake because the sediment feeds the algae in the summer and helps it spread.
The type of algae that caused the water warnings and was blamed for occasional reports of illnesses was a different species, Brian Miller, parks manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, told The Lima News.
“The last couple years have been kind of typical; 2010 was an unexplainable year,” Miller said. “We had a different species of algae. Since then, we’ve been dealing with the same species we’ve dealt with for an eternity here.”
A dry spring and summer helped keep toxic algae low in Lake Erie and in other Ohio inland lakes last year. At Grand Lake, however, the sediment is thick with phosphorus, prompting more water warnings at Grand Lake beginning last May.
State officials have banned farmers around Grand Lake St. Marys from spreading manure on frozen land, hoping it will cut down on the phosphorus flowing into the water.
The park doesn’t count the number of annual visitors, but Miller did note that bed tax from local hotels increased last year, a possible sign that visitors are coming back.
The state again is trying to encourage visitors to return by offering discounts.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said this year that fees for docks, camping and day use will be discounted by half from April 1 until Oct. 31, except for days around Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day.