ST. MARYS — While visits to state parks sagged this year, one local park saw a boom of campers.
The number of camping nights sold at Grand Lake St. Marys increased by 9.4 percent from 2010 figures. The increase followed a 41.6 percent decrease from 2009 to 2010, which coincided with the outbreak of toxic algal blooms at the lake.
“I would say it’s two things — the first is we offered a 50 percent discount, which helped,” Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller told The Evening Leader. “And second, I think that everything ODNR is doing with the lake is helping and giving it a more positive image. In 2009 and 2010, the lake had a negative image.”
Statewide, the number of camping nights sold dropped 9.5 percent from 2010. Miller said he believed Grand Lake St. Marys was able to increase its camping because of the hard work of a slew of individuals.
“I think in 2011, all the action that was taken was positive and when people got here, they were curious to see the lake,” Miller said. “The 50 percent no doubt helped, but I think the water quality was better and that helped, too.”
Grand Lake St. Marys also saw a spike in the number of getaway rentals that were sold this year.
The number of nights sold increased by 45.9 percent from 2010 — surpassing the 3 percent drop statewide.
The increases helped stave off a five-year drop in visitation at the park. Since 2007, the number of camping nights sold at the lake has dropped 48.6 percent.
During the same time period, the number of getaway nights sold has decreased 12.9 percent.
Another aspect that put Grand Lake St. Marys near the top of park attendance is its amenities. Miller said customer reviews consistently mention two areas as positives.
“The biggest things are our cleanliness and friendliness of our employees, both paid staff and volunteers,” Miller said.
“If I showed you our customer surveys, those are the two things that jump out.”
As the year winds down, Miller said local and state park officials are planning for the 2012 season. Among the topics of discussion is a possible alum treatment in the spring.
“We are working with our sister agencies for another possible alum treatment next year,” Miller said. “We are setting our dredge goal higher and we are going to continue with rough fish removal. We’ll also be making some improvements and adding a sea wall and courtesy docks at our campgrounds and some lighting to a couple of launch ramps. We’ll also be replacing a restroom in our campground so the state is continuing to make an investment here.”
Last year, state officials extended a 50 percent discount on campsite, shelterhouse and cab rentals as well as dock fees. Next year, Miller noted the state will offer a 25 percent discount on the fees, excluding holidays.
“When people come next year, they will either see new infrastructure or infrastructure in the process of being built,” Miller said. “They will be seeing a lot of action.”