July 2, 2011
Outdoors with Forda Birds — By John Andreoni
It’s hard to believe that 2011 is half over. The first six months seem like a blur. Now, once more, we’re at the beginning of what’s supposed to be the biggest summer holiday weekend of the year. Also, it’s National Parks and Recreation month where Ohio’s 75 State parks and lakes get the chance to be appreciated by the millions of visitors who use the facilities each year.
Although Ohio offers picnic facilities, 1000 miles of hiking trails, 70 lakes, 9000 campsites, and much more, there are some problems. Over the last few years, especially since last year, we’ve become one of them. I was reading some of the columns I wrote last year about the algae issues we experienced, the damage they did, and how solutions were being developed and, in some cases, implemented. In 2011, the best responses I can get from people are, “So far, so good.” “This year is nothing like last year; knock on wood.” “The channels are green, but I’ve seen them greener.”
I took a drive around the lake yesterday to see if the July 4th weekend traffic had started. Looking out over the lake from the East Bank offered a picture-book view. It was clear as a bell, and the West Bank was quite visible. One sailboat provided the only activity I saw. There wasn’t a puff of breeze, so I’m assuming this craft was skippered by the ultimate fair-weather sailor. One boat trailer was parked in the East Bank marina channel. I saw no other activity. After figuring out how to get through Celina with streets blocked by Freedom Day activities and road construction, I went to the West Bank marina site to check the usage. The people who had just completed the alum application were tearing things down, and that was it. I would have thought that some poor soul would be launching a boat of some sort, but that didn’t happen. Windy Point was totally vacant. 225 public trailer parking spaces around the lake and one being used doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Granted, more people will be in the area on Saturday and the rest of the weekend, at least I hope so. There are still a lot of boating opportunities, and I would hope that people take advantage of them. Advisories that are posted around the lake call for avoiding direct contact with the water. Boating and fishing are considered to be totally safe. Although lake usage might be down, campers seem to be enjoying the facilities. I understand that the state campground is full other than some of the nonelectric sites. That’s a good sign.
Any other year, I would be cautioning people to be careful and courteous because of the holiday traffic. I guess I’m going to have to temper the warnings since I don’t know the number of people who will be using the area. Regardless, if you’re on the water, keep track of the weather. Carry a cell phone for emergencies. File a “flight plan.” Be courteous to your fellow outdoor recreationists although running into any heavy concentrations doesn’t seem likely. However, just because usage might be down doesn’t give users the right to take laws and regulations less seriously.
Grand Lake St. Marys has developed a negative brand that will take years to change. That’s unfortunate because the lake still has a lot to offer. On a personal and, probably, selfish note, it’s quite refreshing to take a boat on the lake and not having to worry about a raft of people getting in my way. Back when I was a kid, there was always activity at the lake. Picnic areas and swimming beaches were always full. I don’t recall heavy boating pressure, though.
By the way, you think we have problems at Grand Lake St. Marys? Minnesota was expecting some 60,000 overnight campers at state facilities over the July 4th weekend and 340,000 day users. Their 67 parks and 7 recreational areas were expected to be packed. The Minnesota legislature and governor failed to come to a budget agreement, and the government shut down. As the July 4th weekend begins, campers, fishermen, boaters, swimmers, picnickers, hikers, bird watchers, and others are denied access to these facilities. State workers are furloughed, and entry gates are closed and padlocked. Visiting fishermen trying to buy a fishing license can forget it because there are no facilities where they can be purchased. This problem might be short lived, but a lot of plans were wrecked and a lot of tourism money lost.
To make a long story short, I plan to be on the lake this weekend. I may even do a little fishing. The algae problem might take a turn for the worse, and it might not. Everyone knows the problem calls for a long-term fix. I don’t intend to avoid the lake and waste whatever good years I have left waiting for the day when I can drink lake water. That’s never going to happen and it shouldn’t.