By Larry Moore
Phase 1 of one of the most talked about projects in southwest Ohio is coming to completion – the Caesar Creek marina. It certainly brings a breath of fresh air to the lake just as spring welcomes the new boating season. Not only is the marina project on schedule but, with only a few minor cuts, it is also within budget.
ODNR Division of Watercraft Chief Mike Miller comments, “We’ve had a lot of calls about the new marina. We are very busy getting ready to open this spring. We do not have a date but the marina will be open in April. The grand opening will be sometime in May and hopefully before Memorial Day.”
Chief Miller said, “We are really excited about the project. It is a very popular boating destination strategically located near Dayton and Cincinnati. The park offers a lot of recreational opportunities including camping, hiking, equestrian campsites, a beach, nature center, pioneer village and boat ramps. Other opportunities in the area include the Little Miami Scenic River, bike trails and the state nature preserve.”
ODNR did a market analysis in 2012 to determine the impact of a new marina. The study found that Caesar Creek is fourth busiest inland lake in the state. It is more than two hours away from any other full service marina. There are a lot of registered boats in the four county area adjacent to the lake.
Caesar Creek Lake is the closest destination of 1900 boaters who own boats of 16-feet or more. Caesar Creek is one of the larger lakes that did not have a marina to service the boaters. There are other smaller southwest Ohio lakes that have marinas including nearby Cowan Lake and Acton Lake at Hueston Woods.
Phase 1 developed the infrastructure including the north marina area which is the boat docks, floating wave attenuator and personal watercraft docks. Also in Phase 1 was the harbormaster building which houses the restrooms, concession area, showers and laundry facility.
The access roads and parking lots are all paved. The ramp to the floating marina is completed. The work around the youth fishing pond with a connecting path and bridge for easy access to the marina for supplies and refreshments is also done. The money for the project comes from boaters. The money is generated from a 1 percent excise tax on fuel, boat registrations and US Coast Guard grants of about $4.1 million. No general revenue tax dollars were used in the project.
Chief Miller explains, “Services offered will include the gas dock and the pump out station for boats that have operational heads. The operation will be seven days each week, however the hours of operation for the marina and restaurant have not yet been settled. The fuel has been ordered and it is marine gasoline with no ethanol. We are going to self-operate this year and are in the process of hiring people. We have the marina operator selected and will hire nine additional staff to operate the facility. There will be no boat rentals at the marina this year. The boat dock lottery went well.
We had more applicants for the docks than the number of available docks. While we understand that will leave some folks disappointed, we are very pleased to have this kind of demand. Notifications have been sent to the winners selected in the lottery. Additionally anyone who submitted an application but was not selected has also been notified. Dock lease holders will have access to their boats 24 hours. In addition to the leased docks, there are 12 transient docks available to rent on an overnight basis.”
Chief Miller continued, “This marina is, of course, built for boaters but it is also built for everyone. It can be a destination point. The youth fishing pond was upgraded. The harbormaster building is a multi-use structure. It will have some additional amenities including clothing, boating accessories and live bait. There is a concession area with ice cream, sandwiches and beverages. There will be no alcohol sales. There will be seating and public rest room facility. Exclusive features for the boat dock lease holders include laundry facilities and showers.”
The marina design is unique to Ohio. The water levels can fluctuate widely on the lake so the marina is designed to move up or down with the water level. This is the first use of the system in the state. It has been used other places where lake levels might fluctuate fifty feet a year. The engineers used all the water fluctuation data about the lake and designed the floatation system.
Safety on the water is a major concern especially with the high level of boat traffic and some concerns that the marina may add traffic. Chief Miller notes, “We are planning to increase patrol on the lake. Unfortunately, it seems that we have fatal incidents there almost every year. I know we have had fatal accidents the last two years. We are working on upgrading the patrol boat house. It is located just around the corner from the marina. Two years ago we stationed two watercraft officers at the lake. It is such a busy place we need more presence on the lake.”
Unfortunately all is not proceeding according to plan for the next major step. There were issues with the respondents to partner with the ODNR for Phase 2 of the marina operation.
Chief Miller added, “Some of the issues were a contractual time frame and how long the private sector individuals wanted to have a contract. Generally they wanted a longer term lease than the state was willing to negotiate at this time. We understand the concerns. This is the first marina where the state had attempted the public and private partnership. There will be some impact for Phase 2 with the private sector completing Phase 2. So there will be some delay moving forward. For these reasons, we decided to self-operate the marina this year and provide some time to re-evaluate the project.,
The new marina should become a destination spot for boaters in southwestern Ohio. It is a state of the art facility offering complete services. It promises to add to the boating experience at the lake. The additional patrols and public awareness of boating safety is needed. The weather this spring has been great and carries the promise of a wonderful fishing and boating season.
Larry S. Moore is a local resident and weekly outdoor columnist.