Drew Bracken | Newark Advocate

BUCKEYE LAKE – Optimism mixed with a bit of a let’s-wait-and-see approach seem to be the general views around Buckeye Lake. Business owners like Tracy Higginbotham at Buckeye Lake Winery, for instance, are pleased the dam restoration efforts are on track and the lake will be back to normal water levels for the 2019 boating season.

“I’m sure the residents of north bank can’t wait as well,” Higginbotham said.

On the north bank, Rich Hennosy, owner of Buckeye Lake Brewery, is only slightly more cautious.

“The dam is a work in progress,” he said, “but until it’s done, it’s difficult to judge the impact.”

A group effort around the lake
In any case, Mike Fornataro, executive director of the Buckeye Lake Region Corporation, is pleased with “the attitude” around the area.

“Since the dam remediation started,” Fornataro explained, “there has, for the first time, been collaboration among the counties, villages, townships and civic associations that ring the lake.”

“We know development is coming,” he continued. “Central Ohio is the fastest-growing area of Ohio and Buckeye Lake is only 30 minutes from Columbus and the airport.”

“We could do nothing and allow the haphazard development that has plagued the region,” he added, “or we can work together with community input to guide the coming growth in a sustainable manner that protects our rural areas and village character. Right now is the time to plan.”

Short-term concerns in planning
Water quality and water depth issues must be addressed and are being acted on now.

The Buckeye Lake Region Corporation was able to help get capital requests placed for each of the 3 counties at the lake.
$400,000 was approved for the beginning of the rehabilitation of the feeder channel on the west end of the lake. The feeder is responsible for the majority of the water coming into Buckeye Lake and also sediment and algae.
$400,000 was approved to begin the study of a tourist pier and $500,000 was re-appropriated for Perry County to have its first public access to the lake on the far east end, near Thornport, a project led by the Thorn Township Trustees.

A multi-use path is planned, creating a waterfront walking and bicycling trail that Fornataro says will be unique to Ohio.

Storm water flooding issues require prompt action, including downstream clearing of log jams that have led to flooding of I-70. “We simply cannot allow the main east-west connector in the state of Ohio to be closed for days on end,” Fornataro said. “It must be fixed. A dredging plan must be established, especially in the east end of Buckeye Lake.

Working with Ohio Department of Natural Resources to establish what the access and use of the new dam-top will be. “Many questions regarding private docks and property rights along the 4-mile dam remain to be answered,” Fornataro said, “hopefully before the dam project is completed.” (The scheduled completion date is by the end of 2018.)

Villages, retail and residential
Long-term, Fornataro said community input has included walkable villages, potentially with 1st floor retail and 2nd floor residential. “In essence,” he said, “traditional American villages.”

“Sprawl and major shopping centers are not part of the community vision,” he continued, “as there are major shopping areas on the east side of Columbus and in Heath within easy driving distance. Rather, the vision is to revitalize the villages where infrastructure already exists.”

Additionally, he added, “Hotels, B&Bs and a state lodge have all been mentioned in community meetings. And protection of our open spaces and farmland is compatible with growth.”

“It requires a vision,” Fornataro summarized, “which the community has provided.”

Meanwhile, as another summer season fast approaches and the dam project continues, Higginbotham, like others around the lake, continues to keep a positive attitude.

“I’m optimistic,” he concluded, “about this summer.”