CELINA — It’s been a rough year for tourism around Ohio, including Grand Lake St. Marys.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many area festivals were canceled. Those festivals bring in thousands of people, many from outside the area, and it’s having a negative impact on lodging near the lake.
“We’re funded by lodging tax, probably not so good,” said Donna Grube, executive director of the Greater Grand Lake Region Visitor’s Center. “We get our reports three months after the fact. So I really can’t tell you the impact, but talking to some of the hoteliers, people just weren’t staying in hotels. They were doing day trips. With the festivals canceled and many events canceled, it’s going to be tough for our hotel folks.”
Grube says many people are still finding ways to enjoy the lake.
“Tourism-wise, the lake has really been appreciated all over again,” she said. “I think some of our parks guys are saying it’s like people discovered their Ohio state parks again with the pandemic with the stay-at-home orders, and people just want to get out but not be in crowds. I think most Ohio state parks are a great place to go to at least have a change of scenery. and Grand Lake St. Marys is certainly in that category. We saw folks fishing, picnicking, going for a walk. They just like to get out of the house, that sort of thing, and it’s due to the social distancing. I know the campgrounds have been at full occupancy.”
Because of the hot weather, the lake has deteriorated, with many fish dying. The cause is not blamed on the toxic algae, which has polluted the water for years.
“As we enter the hotter weeks of summer, conditions in many lakes and ponds can become life-threatening to fish, water temperatures across the state are now averaging over 80 degrees, and the likelihood of the occurrence of a condition known as summerkill is increasing,” said Kathy Garza-Behr, wildlife communications specialist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ District Five. “The term ‘summerkill’ is used to describe fish kills that result from critically low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Depending upon the severity, summerkills can result in total or partial death of a fish population. Death of the fish is actually caused by suffocation, and since larger fish require more oxygen, they are typically the ones to die first.”
Dr. Stephen Jacquemin, associate professor of biology at Wright State University-Lake Campus, has been studying the phenomenon.
“Oxygen concentration has dropped precipitously in the lake over the past week as levels have fallen to between 0 and 1 mg/L during the night across the majority of the basin,” Jacquemin wrote in a Facebook post to the Lake Improvement Association. “This is far below what is required to sustain fish life in the lake. As a result, a large scale fish die-off began several days ago and continues to progress.”
The die-off seems to have affected the whole lake, but it’s heavy in the middle of the lake. Fish species affected include freshwater drum, channel catfish, gizzard shad, largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, green sunfish, walleye, hybrid walleye/sauger ‘saugeye’, common carp, quillback, yellow perch, white sucker, spotfin shiner, fathead minnow, bluntnose minnow, goldfish and yellow bulkhead.
“Unfortunately, this die-off will continue until oxygen concentrations begin to increase,” Jacquemin wrote.
Cooler temperatures and more rainfall could help alleviate the situation in the coming days or weeks.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.