Buckeye among the lakes, parks beckoning visitors

There is good news and bad news at Ohio’s oldest state park.

The good news at Buckeye Lake in Fairfield, Licking and Perry counties is that the 183-year-old dam, in danger of failing, will be repaired during the next five years. The bad news is that the water level of the popular boating and swimming lake has been severely reduced as a safety measure until the repairs are complete.

But visitors will find plenty of reasons to visit the park and the 3,100-acre lake, created to provide water to the Ohio & Erie Canal. Part of the lake will still be open to powerboats and personal watercraft. And the state will dredge the lake to open more areas to boating.

The lake is also a great place for bird-watchers and nature lovers, regardless of the water level. Anglers will still find perch, bluegill, crappie, bass and catfish, among other game species.

Information: 740-467-2690 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/buckeyelake

Day-trippers, campers and other visitors will find plenty of opportunities for water recreation in other central Ohio state parks.

In Delaware County north of Columbus, Alum Creek and Delaware state parks both offer boat ramps, docking facilities, boat rentals and full-service marinas as well as many other amenities for outdoor adventurers.

Alum Creek boasts a 3,387-acre lake surrounded by 4,630 acres of fields and woodlands. Swimmers and sunbathers will adore the park’s 3,000-foot-long beach, the longest inland beach in Ohio.

At the park’s 286-site campground, visitors will find a bit of history, too: a bronze plaque marking the site where Fort Cheshire, built on the frontier to deter Indian attacks during the War of 1812, once stood. Alum Creek also has several reservable primitive cabins.

Alum Creek will also be a big beneficiary of the $88.5 million the state plans to spendon capital improvements at parks. Boaters will get new docks with room for larger boats. Campers will find more full-hookup campsites and the beach house and restrooms will be updated, among other projects.

Information: 740-548-4631 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/alumcreek

At Delaware State Park, the 1,300-acre reservoir and 1,686-acre recreational area offer boating, swimming, fishing, picnicking and five easy hiking trails through meadows, woods and wetlands. In four camping areas, campers will find 211 electric camping sites, and three rentable (furnished) yurts — large, canvas-sided cabins.

Information: 740-548-4631 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/delaware

Those who prefer quieter waters can visit the 145-acre Hargus Lake at A.W. Marion State Park in Pickaway County. Only electric motors are allowed on the lake, enhancing the peacefulness and natural beauty. The 5-mile Hargus Lake trail offers another pleasant opportunity to experience such beauty.

Campers will find 28 electric sites and 30 nonelectric sites from which to choose.

Information: 740-869-3124 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/awmarion

Madison Lake State Park in Madison County is another quiet getaway spot. The small, 76-acre park lies along 106-acre Madison Lake, popular with anglers and paddlers. Visitors will also find a small beach and plenty of verdant picnic spots in this day-use park.

Information: 937-322-5284 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/madisonlake

South of Columbus, Deer Creek State Park in Pickaway and Fayette counties also has a popular boating lake, a large swimming beach and a 227-site campground.

Golf enthusiasts will find a 7,119-yard, par-72 championship course, the only state park golf course in central Ohio.

Deer Creek is also home to one of the state’s nine state park resort lodges, where guests will find indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna, a whirlpool and an exercise room. Many of the 110 rooms have scenic lake views. The lodge is also known for its fine-dining restaurant. Guests who rent one of the 25 two-bedroom cottages also have full use of the lodge facilities.

Also at Deer Creek State Park is the Harding Cabin, where 29th President Warren G. Harding and his “Ohio Gang” cronies reportedly held epic poker games and plotted their political machinations.

The cabin was built by Harry Micajah Daugherty, who served as Harding’s campaign manager and as U.S. attorney general during the Harding administration.

Daugherty was later forced from office by corruption charges, but lest history remember him too harshly, he, through Harding, arranged a release for anti-war activist Eugene Debs and others whom President Woodrow Wilson had imprisoned.

The cabin, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, can be rented for getaways or events. The three-bedroom cabin sleeps seven to nine guests and offers an oversized dining room (perfect for poker games), a full-length screened porch with a lake view (perfect for planning a presidential campaign), and a private boat dock (perfect for making a quick getaway by water).

Information: 740-869-3124 or parks.ohiodnr.gov/deercreek