Jennifer McDonald | Guest Columnist | Newark Advocate

Buckeye Lake has been, for generations, an area treasure. It was just one generation ago that the Buckeye Lake Park – which holds countless summer memories for my parents and many others in our community – was known as “The Playground of Ohio.” It was the place to be, a location filled with a variety of things to do and enjoy.

Fast forward several decades, and my family and I enjoyed many summer days on a boat – swimming, tubing and enjoying music and food at The Island House, Papa Boos and, more recently, Buckeye Lake Winery. Unfortunately, just three short years ago, many recreational activities were halted, due to the conditions of the dam and much-needed engineering studies and reconstruction. Because of this, and the need to lower the lake’s water level, many businesses that relied on boating, fishing and related tourism, suffered.

Fortunately, the community, faced with the extreme challenges associated with the dam reconstruction, bounded together. Among the efforts undertaken was creation of Buckeye Lake 2030, a tri- county alliance, whose mission is to unify efforts across existing political boundaries, marshal the unique assets of the Buckeye Lake Region and attract State and Federal resources to enhance the well-being and economic prosperity of area residents. A Buckeye Lake website ( and Vision Plan followed. I spoke to Mike Fornataro, Executive Director of Buckeye Lake 2030, and he pointed out that the work being done includes a plan for commercial development, new construction, and events. The plan includes the following current and future plans:

  • Immediately working with ODOT and the Buckeye Lake Chamber of Commerce to erect signs around the Lake Region, to heighten awareness and attention
  • One of Buckeye Lake’s newest events, Winterfest, began the year the lake level was dropped. It has already grown to become one of the biggest revenue weekends for many area businesses;
  • Development of a new pier to serve the Lake – for which the region has secured $400,000 in state funding for the initial engineering;
  • Working with Fairfield County, to receive $400,000 in state money to begin remediation of the 8-mile long Feeder Channel that delivers much of the water, along with most of the silt and algae, into Buckeye Lake. This ongoing project will lead to improved water quality throughout the lake.

In addition, I spoke with Buckeye Lake Brewery owner, Rich Hennosy, who explained that there are many ways for area businesses to thrive, and that Buckeye Lake Brewery is doing just that. He noted that, “We have seen no negative impact to our business. We are part of the craft beer renaissance, so we are a destination for people exclusive of Buckeye Lake. Our sales have grown every year since opening, almost 7 years ago, in 2012.”

He also gives the example of finding creative ways to enhance and expand a market – in this case, adding food to the experience. “We are selling every drop and are seeing new faces every day. With the addition of the Chef Shack food option inside the brewery, people are staying longer and are really enjoying the great food we can now offer. I expect that business to grow over time and will become a great take-out option for people in the area who want freshly prepared food. When the dam is complete, we expect people will want to come see what all the commotion was about. With our proximity to the dam, we hope to be the place to stop and have a beer while you are out here.”

My personal experience at Buckeye Lake goes back decades and my fondness for the “lake experience” continues. We look forward to warm days to visit the lake, shops and many establishments that frame the lake and give that area such character. Although the emergency repairs to the dam and the lowering of the lake’s water levels seem to be behind us – many efforts to recreate the “Playground of Ohio” are still underway. I encourage readers to visit the lake – experience their events, craft beer and fine wines, lakefront dining, specialty retail, and a wide range of businesses. I look forward to continuing to discover and enjoy the exciting new experiences in Buckeye Lake’s future, and I hope to see you there when I do!

McDonald is President & CEO of the Licking County Chamber of Commerce