Sharon Lake closes for yearlong improvement project

Great Parks is closing Sharon Lake and some of the surrounding trail areas for more than a year as part of a long-planned effort to improve recreational opportunities for visitors and enhance habitats for wildlife.

The multimillion-dollar dredging project will start on or about April 2. After removing the water, the Great Parks team will reposition sediment to restructure the depth of the 35-acre lake and create new wetland areas. This initial phase also includes the construction of a wetland boardwalk, the addition of a fishing pier and new docks for kayaks and canoes.

A rendering of the proposed boardwalk.

Sharon Lake will remain closed during construction. The estimated completion date is sometime in mid-2025.

“Great Parks is grateful for the partnership with the public in recent years to plan the future of Sharon Lake, and we are now ready to begin the heavy construction that will bring to life our shared vision for this treasured recreation destination,” said Todd Palmeter, Great Parks’ CEO.

All part of the ‘Plan’

Sharon Lake sits within the 730-acre Sharon Woods park site on Lebanon Road. It features a visitor center and a mix of natural and paved trails, including a 2.6-mile mixed-use trail around the lake.

Improving the lake is one of the priorities of the Great Parks Comprehensive Master Plan, which received considerable buy-in from residents. Planning started in 2017. Goals include adding conservation areas, improving ecological resilience and sustainability, and expanding access to the lake for all users.

A major reason for the project is the amount of sediment that has accumulated in the lake there over the years. That has led to growth of duckweed, a flowering aquatic plant that thrives in nutrient-rich water like those in Sharon Lake. 

Beyond being unsightly, large blooms of duckweed can form and block light to plants growing beneath the surface. The current build-up also threatens boating and other recreational activities, wildlife habitat and general lake access, Palmeter said.

The amount of silt at the bottom of a manmade lake is a natural process for a reservoir, he added. However, it accelerated in Sharon Lake because of dense property development in the watershed on land not owned by the park district.

As part of this effort, Great Parks is going to add rock weirs – piles of stones lined up to slow down the flow of water on a hill – to better control future siltation in the future.

What about the Sharon Lake wildlife?

Palmeter stressed that Great Parks’ approach will not only improve water filtration but also expand wildlife habitat.

Over the course of construction, some wildlife, including turtles and birds, will naturally relocate to other nearby habitats. As the lake drains, some fish will swim downstream through the outflow pipe at the mouth of the lake, or simply move to a different habitat. However, not all of the fish and animals that call Sharon Woods home will survive.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which is working with Great Parks, noted that trying to catch and move fish and other wildlife doesn’t offer guaranteed success. The process can also be cost-prohibitive. State regulations also forbid Great Parks from simply relocating most fish types because of the risk of spreading disease to other aquatic populations.

The Great Parks team is working with ODNR on a strategy to safely reduce the number of fish in the lake. One way they’ve done that is eliminating fishing catch limits. Great Parks will implement a fish restocking program once they refill the lake.

“While nearly all habitat improvement projects have a temporary loss of wildlife, the long-term gain in habitat is the goal of this project,” Great Parks wrote in a statement.

When can you expect to be back at the lake?

The construction timeline is due in part to the time it’s going to take to drain Sharon Lake. Doing so slowly – over the course of several weeks or even months – is the safest approach, according to Great Parks. It also offers the best chance at ensuring bank stability.

After all the lake water flows downstream into Sharon Creek, it will take several more weeks for the lakebed to become dry enough to allow heavy equipment to begin work. Great Parks will then take advantage of the depth of the lake by repositioning sediment to create new wetlands in some areas and increased depth in other areas.

Great Parks plans to rely on rainwater to fill the lake after it reopens. A heavy rainfall can add several feet to the lake in a matter of hours. That process will take several months.

Short-term closure, long-term community gain

For safety reasons, the empty lake basin won’t be accessible to visitors. The project will also require the closure of the boathouse and portions of the trail around the lake will remain closed during construction as well. 

However, other existing trails throughout Sharon Woods will still be available, including the Gorge Trail. Guests will be able to view the work from the overlook at Sharon Woods Harbor.

Construction of the new-look Sharon Lake boathouse will begin once the lake project is complete.

These first stages of construction will cost more than $11 million. Funding came from a variety of outside sources – Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Dorothy B. Francis Charitable Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, Land & Water Conservation Fund and the State of Ohio Capital Improvement Fund.

Project rendering

Remaining funds will come from Great Parks through its current capital project budget as well as additional grants and other funding sources. Hamilton County voters approved a 1-mill Great Parks levy in 2016.

Future plans include improvements to the shared-use trail and new kayak launch. Palmeter said Great Parks envisions making more harbor enhancements once they finish the lake improvements.

Great Parks will no longer allow motorboats in Sharon Lake. However, boaters can still use Winton Lake and Miami Whitewater Forest Lake.

Residents can follow the progress of the project on Great Parks’ website and social media sites.

Sharon Lake Improvement Project


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