Thursday, April 24th, 2014
By Kathy Thompson
Grand Lake state park to get splash pad
  ST. MARYS - Grand Lake St. Marys State Park will get a small portion of the $88.5 million the state is spending to modernize parks in the next two years.
A new splash pad for campers as well as shower house upgrades are planned for the local park, according to Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina.
Faber, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer, Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, and local representatives were at the state park Wednesday for the announcement.
The amount the local park will get is unclear, Zehringer said. The state is seeking the public's input to "help decide what they would like to see in their parks."
"We want to put in restrooms and bath houses that are clean, safe and comfortable," Zehringer said. "We're not going to build Taj Mahal's, but we want them to be nice.
"This is an investment for the taxpayers and park visitors."
The public may leave comments online at parks.ohiodnr.gov/improvements.
The state money will not be used to expand parks, just improve them, Faber said.
The splash pad at the local state park will likely be built near the ball field by the campgrounds, said park manager Brian Miller. He could not say what the splash pad would cost. Once plans are complete, the project will be bid out, he said. He is hoping construction will be complete by the time campers come for the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The pad will use water supplied by the city of St. Marys, which supplies the park with water, Miller said. It will have some sort of storage tank that will reuse the water after it has been chlorinated or cleaned.
"Again, those exact plans haven't been worked out," Miller said. "But we do know this will be the first splash pad in a state park."
This project should not to be confused with a splash pad suggested by members of the Lake Improvement Association earlier this year, Miller said.
LIA president Tim Lovett, who attended Wednesday's event, said the splash pad suggested by his group was still in the "very preliminary talking stages" and no plans had been made.
The large investment by the state is good news, Miller said.
"We're very excited," he said. "Parks haven't seen a lot of money in the last few years and this is a big boost to us all."
Also being funded from the new money will be a shower house with restrooms, Miller said. The project also is still in the planning stages, he added. Two shower houses with restrooms and five restrooms are now used at the park.
Miller is hoping the park continues its upswing in attendance. Last year, 59 percent of the electric campsites were filled on Memorial Day Weekend, and almost all campsites were filled for the July 4 holiday.
This year, all 176 electric campsites are reserved for the Memorial Day weekend, Miller said.
"I think it's a good indication of what's going on," Miller said. "People are becoming more educated about the lake and are coming here for more activities than just on the lake. There's a lot more to do - fishing, hiking, biking. This is a good indication, I hope, of what the rest of the year will look like."
Faber said as a Mercer County resident who has camped in the park with his family, he has made a commitment to the state and to voters that the parks would get funding.
"This is a quality of life item," Faber said. "While Grand Lake has had some challenges, we want to make sure our residents and those who come here to enjoy the lake and attractions here are comfortable, safe and enjoying themselves."
Faber said discussions regarding the parks started four years ago with Gov. John Kasich.
"Eight years ago, you were in a waiting line to get into a campground in this park," Faber said. "And under Gov. John Kasich's leadership, the state is once again investing in economic needs and one of those greatest needs are the parks. With the fiscal responsibility the governor and we legislatures have shown, we've become economically prudent to the point where we can now put some of those funds into action for our future, our children's futures and our grandchildren."
Miller is also hoping that by this summer, 14 additional campsites will be completely electric and 13 of the already electric campsites will have sewer and water hookup. The cost for those projects is $171,542.96 and will be paid through capital funds from 2012.
"When people come, they want to be able to just hookup to water and sewer," Miller said. "We already offer free WiFi."
The announcement made Donna Grube, executive director of the Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitor's Bureau, very excited.
"Last year we had more than 400,000 people use the park," Grube said. "It's a wonderful outdoor product of the area and spiffing it up will only make it a bigger draw.
"This is only leading us into the right direction," she continued. "We were up in our lodging tax by more than eight percent last year. The lake usage is up; the fishing is great. This just moves us forward."
According to ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, more than 55 million people visited the 74 state parks throughout Ohio last year, bringing in about $1 billion in tourism dollars. Ohio is one of only seven states in the nation where admission to state parks is free.
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