CAMBRIDGE, OH Water levels at Salt Fork Lake in Guernsey County have fallen five feet below normal and the total volume of water in the lake has been reduced by nearly half a drawdown ordered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to help dam safety engineers investigate seepage at the lake’s earthen dam. Despite lower water levels, recreation at Salt Fork State Park remains relatively unaffected.
ODNR engineers and outside consultants hired by the department indicate it could be weeks before they are able to determine the cause of the seepage, but they assure the public and local officials there remains no imminent threat of dam failure.
“We’re feeling better about what we are finding in our investigations at the dam, but it will still be weeks before we have some solid answers,” said Mark Ogden, dam safety manager for the ODNR Division of Water. “We continue to ask for the patience and understanding of area residents during this time.”
Meanwhile, recreation at Salt Fork Lake and its surrounding state park remains active with boating, fishing and swimming still available to visitors. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the park’s campground and resort lodge were at full capacity and the lake was sprinkled with boaters.
“The lowered water depths at some of the lake’s launch ramps make it difficult for some larger boats to access the lake, but craft such as fishing boats and pontoons can still enter and exit the lake,” said Hal Harper, Salt Fork State Park manager. “We don’t expect that recreation will be impacted any further this summer.”
By lowering the lake 5 feet, engineers have also significantly reduced pressure on the dam. Engineers continue to monitor the dam closely, making visual inspections and taking instrument readings multiple times a day. During this investigation, visitors and residents may see varying amounts of water, or no water at all, being released into the dam’s outlet channel and should not be alarmed.
Additional piezometers monitoring devices that measure pressure and water seepage have been installed in the dam and its toe and are providing engineers with valuable information. The instruments will aid the engineers in determining where the water is coming from and why.
ODNR began monitoring the dam closely in February after noticing a boil in the downstream toe. A multi-layered gravel filter berm was successfully laid over that boil in March to reinforce the structure. In mid-June additional boils were found around the downstream channel, prompting the agency to lower the water level.
“The public will be informed of any new developments regarding the dam,” Ogden said. “While we support residents’ desire to be prepared in the event of a possible dam failure, we feel confident that there currently is no imminent threat of such a failure.”
The 17,229-acre Salt Fork State Park records about 1.8 million visitors annually. Salt Fork Lake, with nearly 3,000 acres, is open to boats of unlimited horsepower and provides ample fishing opportunities for anglers pursuing largemouth bass, crappies, bluegill, walleye and muskie.
Marina operations, including boat rentals and fuel sales, are expected to remain fully operational. Operations at the Sugartree Marina, however, are being moved to the Salt Fork Marina where water levels remain higher.
Overnight guests can enjoy a stay at the park’s resort lodge, 54 family cottages and 212-site campground. While the beaches remain accessible, campers also have the option to use the Salt Fork Resort pools for a small fee.
The park’s extensive system of hiking and bridle trails will remain open all summer, providing visitors with beautiful views of the park and lake. And, daily tours are offered throughout the summer at the historic Kennedy Stone House, a restored farmhouse dating back to the 1840s. For the golfer, the park’s 18-hole golf course offers a quiet day in the woods as well as a pro shop, snack bar, driving range and putting green.
For updates on Salt Fork Lake, visit ohiodnr.com or call Salt Fork State Park at 740-439-3521.