Many people and organizations collaborated to make 2021 an excellent year for Grand Lake St. Marys improvement, from water quality and amenities to recreational experiences and economy. Community support is a major driver of those efforts, and the Lake Improvement Association applauds the efforts of all those who contribute to make Grand Lake St. Marys an economic hub, wildlife habitat and recreation destination for everyone who enjoys its waters and shores. The following recaps 2021 lake improvement highlights, with additional details below.
Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed to this year in review, and for all their efforts to improve and promote Grand Lake St. Marys:
- Dr. Stephen Jacquemin, Professor of Biology, Wright State University-Lake Campus
- Theresa Dirksen, Mercer County Agriculture & Natural Resource Director
- Tom Grabow, Ohio Dredging Program Administrator
- David Faler, Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager
- Jared Ebbing, Mercer County Community/Economic Development Director
- Donna Grube, Executive Director, Greater Grand Lake Visitors Region
- Cleaner water: Grand Lake St. Marys recorded its lowest levels of total microcystin toxins in a decade
- Record-setting year: Treatment trains at Coldwater Creek, Prairie Creek and Beaver Creek reduced phosphorus, nitrate and sediment concentrations by up to 95%
- New mystery: There were still algal blooms, but many were not toxic. A study is planned to find out why
- Open beaches: Algae warning signs were absent from the lake’s beaches most of the year. Windy Point Beach was open the entire season. The three north beaches were only closed for two weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day
Wetlands & Ag
- Construction underway: Excavation was completed at the Gilliland Nature Preserve, a 2-acre wetland connected directly to the lake. Construction began at the Burntwood-Langenkamp Conservation Area, which will add more than 40 acres of wetlands
- Phase 1 progress: A controlled drainage installation is planned for the Mercer Wildlife Area. It will pump lake water into tiles under a 20-acre farm field, then the water will flow through an 11-acre wetland. Part 1 of a 3-phase project
- A new treatment train: Construction on the Chickasaw Creek treatment train is slated to begin in fall of 2022
- Manure nutrient recovery: Ag Solutions found success with its Manure Nutrient Recovery Project, removing more than 95% of phosphorus from swine manure in its pilot study
- Significant silt removal: The dredge program removed 396,808 cubic yards of material from the lake in 2021. The aggressive program continues to remove legacy phosphorus from the lake
- New DMRAs: Three Dredge Material Relocation Areas are being constructed near Aquaview, each 10 to 12 acres in size with a total capacity of 350,000 to 400,000 cubic yards. The property will be a long-term disposal area where dredge material will be collected, dewatered, then reclaimed as beneficial reuse material
Tourism & Economy
- Business is booming: 2021 sales tax collection is on pace to break 2020’s $6.3 million record
- Campground at capacity: The GLSM State Park campground was completely full for 22 weekends during 2021
- Desirable destination: Visitation rebounded in 2021, nearly doubling lodging tax revenues from 2020
- Ongoing development: Boardwalk Village, Bryson Park District and West Beach saw continued development in 2021
Ongoing Projects & Events
- Lighthouse preservation: The LIA launched an initiative to preserve the Northwood Lighthouse, including electrical upgrades, structural repair and shoreline protection
- West Bank benches: The LIA funded new benches on the West Bank
- Kayak launch: The LIA is funding a pilot kayak launch at Windy Point
- New channel markers: The LIA and Grand Lake Recreation Club are working together to install new, solar-lit signage at major channels on Grand Lake St. Marys
- Successful events: The Bar Stool Open had a record number of teams in 2021. In addition, more than 80 teams participated in a Grand Lake Scavenger Hunt hosted by the LIA. The Grand Lake Recreation Club hosted successful Bicycle Poker Run and “bands on the beach” events, and the GLSM State Park Campgrounds had a great turnout for its annual Fall Festival
Lowest toxin levels in a decade
Grand Lake St. Marys recorded its lowest levels of total microcystin toxins in a decade during 2021, a year that witnessed tremendous shifts in the algal community.
Those shifts were spurred by unique environmental conditions:
- An extended, heavy ice pack that resulted in low photosynthetically active radiation and reduced ‘resident blue green algae’
- Low spring external loading maintained low growth rates
- High summer internal loading
- High fall external loading
Algae warning signs were removed from the lake’s beaches most of the year. In fact, microcystin levels were low enough that people could enjoy the water every week between Memorial Day and Labor Day, known as the summer bathing season.
Windy Point Beach was open the entire season, and the three north beaches were only closed for two weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
A new mystery
Though certainly welcome, 2021’s improved water quality presented a new mystery: how is it that toxicity levels were reduced, but biomass was not? In other words, why did the lake experience non-toxic algal blooms?
Wright State University-Lake Campus Biology Professor Dr. Stephen Jacquemin is pursuing funding along with Dr. Silvia Newell (Wright State University) and Dr. Jason Doll (Francis Marion University) to study whether the reduction in toxicity, but not biomass, measured in Grand Lake St. Marys during 2021 was linked to a shift to non-toxic algal strains, changes in external loading, or shifts in internal nutrient availability and recycling. The Lake Improvement Association has committed $5,000 to help fund Dr. Jacquemin’s research.
Wetlands & Ag
The year 2021 saw continued efficacy of tributary wetlands, with significant concentration reductions and record pumping rates, as well as continued wetlands expansion led by Mercer County Agriculture & Natural Resource Director Theresa Dirksen.
Up to 95% reduction in concentrations at Coldwater Creek, Prairie Creek, Beaver Creek
Pumping rates were consistent or higher than past years. Achievers similarly high or higher reductions in dissolved P, total P, nitrate and sediment – up to 95% reduction in concentrations. That translated to tremendous load reductions similar to or higher than last year. The treatment trains continue to operate at a relatively small footprint yet achieve a significant effect.
40 acres of wetlands at the Burntwood-Langenkamp Wetland Conservation Area
Located along Coldwater Creek Rd., south of Green Rd. the Burntwood-Langenkamp Wetland Conservation Area is under construction and expected to be finished by early summer 2022. Made possible by an H2O grant from the State of Ohio and Clean Ohio funds, the intent is to capture medium and high flows from Burntwood Creek to route through the wetland for treatment before the water releases back into Coldwater Creek.
- 88.9-acre site with over 40 acres of wetlands
- Remaining land will consist of tree plantings and upland grass plantings
- Once complete, the site will be open to the public and feature walking paths and observation mounds
Gilliland Nature Preserve Wetland Excavation completed
The Gilliland Nature Preserve Wetland excavation work was completed in 2021. Made possible by an Ohio EPA 319 grant (US EPA funds) and Clean Ohio funds, the site has been temporarily seeded. Trees and permanent seed will be added this fall and spring.
- 2-acre wetland connected directly to the lake
- An additional 7.5 acres will be seeded to upland grasses and trees
- A short walking path will be open to the public next year
Mercer Wildlife Area
The Grand Lake St. Marys Lake Facilities Authority is planning a controlled drainage installation at the Mercer Wildlife Area. The intent is to pump lake water into the drainage tiles under the 20-acre farm field, then water leaving the tiles will flow through an 11-acre wetland before releasing back into the lake. The site will be seeded by ODNR-DOW local officials. This is the first of a multi-phase project. Phase 2 will consist of more wetlands and a greentree marsh. Phase 3 (planned for 2023-2024) will add wetlands on the south side of SR 703. Made possible by an H2Ohio grant from the State of Ohio.
- Controlled drainage will pump lake water into tiles under 20-acre farm field
- Water leaving the tiles will flow through an 11-acre wetland
- Phase 1 of a 3-phase project
Construction to begin on the Chickasaw Creek Treatment Train
Construction on the Chickasaw Creek treatment train will likely begin in the fall of 2022 and extend into 2023. The GLSM LFA has applied for an Ohio EPA 319 grant to supplement the existing state funds to construct the project.
Manure Nutrient Recovery Project results in over 95% P reduction
In 2021, Mercer County Ag Solutions conducted a six-month long on-farm manure nutrient manage recovery project on a swine farm in the GLSM watershed. The project utilized the KDS Separator, Quick Wash technology and the Ekoton multi-disc screw press dehydrator through the six months on site. Over 95% of phosphorus was removed from the swine manure. A final report is under construction and should be available by the end of 2021.
The dredge program removed 396,808 cubic yards of material from the lake in 2021, a new annual record. The aggressive dredge program, led by Ohio Dredging Program Administrator Tom Grabow, continues to remove legacy phosphorus from the lake.
This year’s dredging projects included:
- Park Grand- East Bay
- Tebow’s Mouth of the channel
- Montezuma Creek – 90% complete. Will finish next spring
- Breezewood East and West Channels
- South shore Acres East. Will complete the West next season
- Sandy Beach
- State Park Campground Bay
- West Beach
In addition, three new Dredge Material Relocation Areas (DMRAs) are being constructed near Aquaview, each 10 to 12 acres in size with a total capacity of 350,000 to 400,000 cubic yards. The property will be a long-term disposal area where dredge material will be collected, dewatered, then reclaimed as beneficial reuse material.
The dredging team plans to fill the cells in sequence, so that by the time the last cell is filled, the material in the first cell has dried and the dirt can be removed to make space for more dredge material. Grabow said the goal is to have the first two cells completed by the 2022 dredge season.
Tourism & Economy
On pace to break last year’s sales tax record with double digit growth, the Grand Lake St. Marys economy continues to improve despite COVID-related challenges. The local housing market has made strides and property values have increased as the lake reaffirms its status as a popular destination.
To put it in perspective, 2010 Mercer County general fund sales tax revenue total $3.8 million. In 2021, it’s on pace to break 2020’s record of $6.3 million – despite COVID-related economic challenges.
Mercer County Sales Taxes (figures through Oct. 2021, on pace to eclipse 2020)
Similarly, Auglaize County regular sales tax collection was $4.3 million in 2010, and it’s already exceeded $7 million in 2021.
Improved water conditions and other factors resulted in increased traffic and interest in lake tourism during 2021.
The Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Campground was completely full for 22 weekends during 2021, and at least ¾ full for 29 weeks.
The renovated West Beach (soon to be renamed Sunset Beach) was busy throughout the year. New restrooms and picnic tables were added to the beach.
Development and investment in the lake is booming. The Tugboat Bar and the rest of the Boardwalk Grill/Boardwalk Village development on the West Bank promises an existing destination, and ongoing playground development makes the Bryson Park District a great attraction for lakeside family fun.
Those with larger, luxury-type rentals on the lake reported brisk business during 2021, especially for family gatherings. The lake’s location between Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Detroit and other midwestern cities makes it an ideal meeting spot for those wanting to gather from those far flung cities.
Overnight visitations in the two-county area rebounded very well following 2020, when very few chose to travel due to COVID-19.
Auglaize/Mercer County Lodging Tax Collection May-August
Ongoing Projects & Events
Northwood Lighthouse Preservation Project
The Lake Improvement Association has launched an initiative to preserve the Northwood Lighthouse, located on the north bank of Grand Lake St. Marys partway between St. Marys and Celina.
Originally built in the early 1920’s as part of the Northwood development, the lighthouse was the first to shine on Grand Lake St. Marys and stands as a testament to our rich heritage nearly 100 years later.
The LIA Northwood Lighthouse preservation project will include electrical upgrades, structural repair and shoreline protection to help the lighthouse shine bright for another 100 years.
West Bank Benches & Windy Point Kayak Launch
The LIA continues to invest in GLSM amenities. In 2021, the LIA installed new benches along the West Bank. It’s also funding a pilot kayak launch to be installed at Windy Point.
New Channel Markers
The LIA and Grand Lake Recreation Club partnered to install new channel navigation signage with solar lighting around Grand Lake St. Marys. So far, lighted markers have been placed at 6 channels, with 3 more in the works.
The year 2021 saw multiple successful events, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. A record number of teams participated in the Bar Stool Open, and the LIA hosted more than 80 teams for a GLSM Scavenger Hunt designed to be a safe and socially distanced family activity on the lake.
In addition, turnout was excellent for the Grand Lake Recreation Club’s Bicycle Poker Run and “bands on the beach” events, the Grand Lake Marathon was a success, and the GLSM State Park Campgrounds was full for its annual Fall Festival.
LIA Membership Growth
LIA membership numbers continue to grow as more people wish to contribute toward lake improvement efforts. In addition to funding water quality and amenity projects, the LIA serves as a collective voice for GLSM stakeholders, working to influence policies and legislation to protect, preserve and restore Grand Lake St. Marys as an economic engine, wildlife habitat and recreation hub for all who enjoy its waters and shores.
Although 2021 was a good year for lake improvement, it will take ongoing support and work to keep everything trending in the right direction. We face new and constant challenges and must remain proactive to continue to work toward a restored Grand Lake St. Marys and a brighter future for all who enjoy and depend on the lake.