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Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Officials hope discounts will keep visitors coming

By Kathy Thompson
Camping discounts will continue for another year at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. Local officials hope the benefit continues to reel in visitors from near and far.
"We've seen a steady increase in campers and those enjoying the lake since 2009," said park manager Brian Miller. "We want the local folks and the tourists to come here and see how beautiful our lake and surrounding areas are."  
The 25 percent discount offered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources applies to camping sites and docks. Rates begin April 1 and run through Oct. 31, excluding holidays and theme weekends.
There are 204 campsites to choose from, Miller said. Electric camping sites are generally $25 per night while non-electric campsites are $21 per night.
Discounts may not be used May 23-25; July 3-5; Aug. 29-31; Sept. 18-20 and Oct. 1-4.
On those holiday weekends there will be an additional $1 for Friday and Saturday night stays and $2 for the entire weekend, Miller said.
"But it still saves the camper quite a bit with the discount," Miller said. "The discounts will not only benefit those living here and having docks or boat houses on their property, but those that want to come out and stay awhile and enjoy everything we have."
Those who rent a state-owned dock on Grand Lake, which costs $330 for the season, can also use the 25 percent discount, Miller said. Owners of docks and boathouses, who generally pay $80 a season, will get the same reprieve.
"We have 13,500 acres of lake to play on and 500 acres of park," Miller said. "There's so much to do. We have not just the camping and boating, but fishing, two dog parks, bike and walking trails, a small hiking trail, Putt Putt Golf, basketball courts, golf courses and all the other activities that go on in the area. It's a great time for a family to come out and enjoy the outdoors."
Miller said attendance at the park last year was about 25 percent more than the year before.
"I think the discounts offered last year helped, but lots of things play into someone coming - weather and activities."
The inaugural Grand Lake Marathon on Sept. 27 will hopefully be a boost for the state park, Miller said.
Donna Grube, executive director of the Auglaize & Mercer Counties Convention & Visitors Bureau, said 2012 was a very good year with an almost 10 percent rise in lodging taxes coming into the county. The bureau receives a 3 percent lodging tax assessed to people staying in local motels.
Grube said $138,708 was collected in 2013 compared to $128,182 the previous year.
"We're very pleased with that," Grube said. "We were hoping for at least $125,000 and got even more."
Miller said he doesn't know how the snow and ice on Grand Lake will affect water quality.
"I hear theories but don't see any proof," Miller said. "I do know that the ice will cause the oxygen not to reach the fish like it should and there will be some dead fish during the spring. But that's typical. The sunlight can't get to them, so some die off. But we're prepared for that."
Ice fishing has been a big draw, Miller said.
"2013 was our best ice fishing year," Miller said. "It was just one of the best for the crappie and bass."
The state continues to conduct tests on fish fillets to ensure they are within consumption guidelines. No issues have been detected, Miller said.
Harmful algal blooms continue to be an issue for the lake, but numerous efforts have been used to combat the problem, including treatment trains and dredging.
ODNR dredged almost 300,000 cubic yards of sediment from Grand Lake in 2012 and last year more than 302,000 cubic yards were dredged. Treatment trains, like the one at Prairie Creek, reduce phosphorous that would have entered the lake.
"We haven't had any problems like we did five years ago," Miller said of the lake's condition. "We have such great activities during the year - the Governor's Cup Regatta, the fireworks on July Fourth and Freedom Days. Lots of people attend those and we hope more and more will each year."
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