By Nancy Allen, The Daily Standard
A nonprofit group is hoping to attract more visitors to Grand Lake by rehabilitating an abandoned beach.
The Lake Improvement Association announced at its meeting Saturday that work will be done to the former beach at Windy Point on the lake's south side.
Money for the work will come from annual LIA membership dues, which increased from $10 to $15 this year, and fundraising dollars, LIA Vice President Mark Piening said.
"Some sand is already there, but we want to excavate the area to make it bigger and bring in more sand and relocate some riprap (rocks)," Piening told members. "So with part of your $5 membership, we're trying to do things like this to make the lake nicer."
Piening would not give an estimate on the work because the LIA is in the process of accepting bids for the project.
"We want to make the experience for users of Grand Lake better and better when they come here," he said. "We've got the funds to do it … we want to make a difference."
Local groups and state officials have been working to help restore the lake, which has been plagued by toxic algae blooms and water quality advisories in recent years. Officials have set a goal to have no advisories placed on the lake this year.
Piening expects the 180-foot-wide beach area to be open for the summer. He encouraged LIA members to suggest other areas around the lake for improvement work.
Laura Walker, coordinator of the Grand Lake/Wabash Watershed Alliance, announced the Grand Again campaign to market the lake begins this week with the placement of two billboards on U.S. 127 south of Celina and on state Route 703. The billboards will read, "feed your lawn, not the lake" and will direct people to the grandagain.org website.
Website visitors will be asked to take a survey to gauge their knowledge of non-point source pollution and enter them in a chance to win free prizes, including phosphorous-free lawn fertilizer.
The billboards and website are being paid with a $49,950 Ohio Education Foundation grant from the Ohio EPA awarded to the Grand Lake St. Marys Community Improvement Corporation. The CIC, which includes commissioners from Mercer and Auglaize counties, is administering the grant funds and the watershed alliance is rolling out the project, Walker said. The campaign also has a Twitter @GrandAgain account and Facebook page.
The campaign is focused on educating people on five types of non-point source pollution – lawn fertilizer, storm drains, private septic systems, pet waste and household waste and pharmaceuticals.
LIA members also learned the second annual Get the Carp Outta Here fishing tournament on the lake will be held May 18-20. Organizers moved up the date this year to coincide with carp spawning so participants have a better chance of removing more fish.
Rough fish such as carp contribute to poor water quality by secreting phosphorous in their waste and riling up sediment and phosphorous in the lake's bottom. Removing the fish is part of an action plan to help improve water quality.
"Just under 300 people signed up last year and removed over 8,000 pounds of carp in 48 hours," said Donna Grube, director of the Auglaize & Mercer Counties Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "It's just a $5 entry fee to participate, and there will be youth and adult prizes, daily and tourney total prizes and door prizes."
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller said lowest bidder, Shinn Brothers, Celina, has been awarded a $309,739 contract for improvements at the East Bank boat launch area.
The project will involve replacing two, two-lane launch ramps, adding more parking and overlaying asphalt on the new and existing parking area. Miller said the job is expected to start in early May and be done in late June. The grant funds for the work came from the divisions of watercraft and wildlife.
Other projects at the state park include replacing an old restroom at the campground, resurfacing the roadway and parking lot at Windy Point and partnering with the city of St. Marys on building a dog park on state park land along the East Bank. Miller reported a college intern will be entering lakefront properties this summer to take an inventory on the total number of state docks.
LIA membership chairman Dave Eyink reported LIA members for the first time this year will receive membership discounts at lake-related businesses. The organization has 1,200 family memberships and wants to increase its membership to 2,012 by the end of this year, Piening said.
"Yes, we increased dues, but we wanted to give something back to foster visitation to local businesses," he said.