Drew Bracken, Correspondent, Newark Advocate

BUCKEYE LAKE – There will be some touch-up and clean-up things on the dam at Buckeye Lake as the weather improves, “but the main construction of the dam is complete,” confirmed Mark Hoffhines, park manager of Buckeye Lake State Park. “The lake will be up to full-pool and I’m looking for things to get back to normal.”

“We’re expecting a busy 2019 summer,” he added.

With that comes a sigh of relief from residents and business owners alike.

“I rest easier knowing the construction is over and we can get on with our lives,” said Mike Fornataro, a lakeside resident as well as the executive director of the Buckeye Lake Region Corporation.

“It’s an enormous relief and mood elevator,” he continued, “to look out your window and not be fenced in from the lake. So there’s a really positive attitude here.”

Nearby, Rich Hennosy, owner of Buckeye Lake Brewery, agreed. “We’re ready for people to start coming out,” he said. “We’re definitely expecting a lot more people this year.”

“Every business,” added Tim Ryan, president of the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, “is very happy the dam is completed. From what we’ve seen right now, there are new people coming to visit, and walking on the dam, so there is some renewed activity.”

“But there’s no question,” Ryan said, “the majority of the businesses within the region of Buckeye Lake suffered during the dam construction for 3-and-a-half years. When you talk about recovery, the businesses are back to levels at about the time the dam construction started. With that being said, just because you’re back doing the business you were doing 4 years ago, you have not recovered what you lost and that’s something that’s very, very hard to do.”

So the question is: Is Buckeye Lake ready for a resurgence? A comeback? A renewal?

“The easy reply,” Fornataro answered, “is yes. And no. I think it needs a resurgence on a lot of different levels.”

Meaning: Most assume there will soon be renewed (or increased) prosperity in the area. And everyone seems to be onboard with that. But many also think the more overriding issue may be how to manage that success.

Fornataro points out, for instance, the area needs improved stormwater management, visitor amenities and infrastructure such as hi-speed Internet, among other things.

“Those are definitely lacking,” he said. “That’s where the work’s going to come in.”

And there’s more, according to Hennosy. “We’re more than anxious to get it going again,” he stressed. “But I think this side of the lake might have to adjust to more pedestrian flow. And parking may be a challenge.”

Issues like those, and others, prompted Fornataro to respond, “Business and residential growth are coming this way. We’re seeing it. But we’re not ready yet. And we need to get ready because we don’t need sprawl. We need growth that’s sustainable, that doesn’t plow under our rural character, and is in line with the community vision of sustainable growth.”

“It needs to be managed,” he added, “and I think growth managed intelligently is coming. The growth is definitely coming. The intelligent management is the key.”

There’s a lot to manage. The Buckeye Lake region encompasses 3 counties, 4 townships and multiple villages. Nevertheless, Fornataro continued, “We’ve brought all the entities to the table to work together to manage this growth.”

“I think part of that is because the Buckeye Lake Region Corporation is so inclusive,” he added. “It’s the people who have been elected by their peers who are on this board. They’re already elected. We’ve brought them all together.”

“So I’m encouraged,” Fornataro said, “by the way the people are speaking in unison. They’ve given us a vision and we’ve brought the people together to help implement that.”

Consequently, he concluded, “As I speak to people along the dam, they’re quite pleased overall with the outcome of this project. But it’s the whole region that’s going to see a resurgence.”

First park
Buckeye Lake, constructed as a canal feeder lake in 1826, is Ohio’s oldest state park.

Source: parks.ohiodnr.gov/buckeyelake