Although hard to imagine, at one time the Grand Lake region was part of a vast forest wilderness that stretched from the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania to the prairies of Illinois. The rich soils of Ohio's till plains were the cause of the eventual demise of the forest. One early land agent wrote, "...in short it wants nothing but cultivation to make it a most delightful country." Today, in place of this forest are fields of corn, soybeans and wheat.
In addition to forests, pre-settlement Ohio contained large prairies and wetlands. The land which now lies beneath Grand Lake reservoir was once a vast wet prairie. Today, the park contains varying habitats including woodlands, wetlands and prairies in addition to the surrounding croplands.
Grand Lake lies along one of the country's major migration routes. Water birds using the lake as a resting stop include Canada geese, ducks, grebes, swans, egrets, loons, cormorants and ospreys. Many ducks, geese and heron also nest here. A nearby heron rookery once had 175 nests in only 39 trees. Bald eagles also nested near this reservoir by the hundreds before 1900. This magnificent bird is now only rarely sighted in the area. Other animals of the park include fox squirrel, mink, raccoon, beaver, coyote, white-tailed deer and many others.
The lake was constructed from 1837 to 1845 as a feeder for the Miami-Erie Canal System. It has 52 miles miles of shoreline and is approximately 9 miles long and 3 miles wide. For years, the 17,500 acre reservoir was the largest artificial body of water in the world. And even today it's the largest body of water in the world, built without the use of machinery.
Seventeen hundred men worked from sunrise to sunset for as little as thirty cents a day and a jigger of whiskey, which was thought to prevent malaria, to construct the reservoir. The area experienced another boom in the late 1890's when oil was discovered. For a long time the lake was dotted with oil derricks. Today a pile of rocks near the center of the lake marks the spot of the last producing oil well.
In 1913 the canal system was abandoned as a means of transportation, and in 1930 the lake was transferred from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Conservation for recreational purposes.
Good fishing opens early in the spring and continues until late fall. The lake is well stocked with channel catfish, bass, crappies, perch, blue gills, sunfish, and northern pike. Back water pools have been built to insure good fishing when the lake is too rough.
Two lighthouses grace the scenery on Grand Lake. In the early days a lighthouse located at Northmoor on the north side of the lake, operated under a government license during the months from April 1 to November 1. Now the Eddystone Lighthouse copy is just a monument to the original English Channel Beacon.
In 1986, the Celina Rotary Club built a 40 foot working lighthouse on the west bank of the lake. A wrought iron observation deck encircles the structure.