Dillion Lake in Zanesville, Ohio offers a variety of amenities for both power and paddle boaters.
At 1,590 acres of water, Dillon Lake is large enough to handle power boats of unlimited horsepower, and as such, is a wildly popular summertime destination for local boaters. Although possibly too popular for paddle boaters at the height of the season, by mid to late autumn, when the weather cooperates, a paddle on Dillon Lake can be pure pleasure. Gone are the summer boaters racing across the lake. Instead, patient fishermen sit quietly in the shallows where largemouth bass feed on the teeming shad.
Dillon Lake is approximately 6 miles northwest of Zanesville, twenty miles east of Newark, and 40 miles east of Columbus, Ohio. The lake was created through the damming of the Licking River at Dillon Dam, which was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938. The Army Corps of Engineers began the project in 1946, but due to insufficient funds, and the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, the project remained uncompleted until 1961.
Brief yet Long History
Thousands of years ago, the Adena people lived in this region. These were a Pre-Columbian semi-sedentary people who lived in villages, hunted for game and gathered wild indigenous fruits. The Adena people left a variety of earthworks in the surrounding areas, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. More recently, Moses Dillon, a Quaker from Maryland settled here near the falls of the Licking River in the early 1800’s. Dillon was on his way west to bring Christianity to the Indians when he noticed an abundance of coal and iron ore in the area. Dillon Lake is so named following the Army Corps of Engineers tradition of naming lakes after the closest town.
Dillon Lake State Park is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who leases it to the State of Ohio. The park offers boating, bicycling, swimming, camping, hiking, and fishing. Cabins and campsites are available. There are three well maintained and easily accessible boat ramps. The area just below the dam is popular for year round fishing. Licenses are required, and game laws are enforced.
An Autumn Paddle on Dillon Lake
Mid-October scenery features the autumn hues of indigenous trees such as cottonwoods, oak, maple, walnut, cherry and willow. Abundant bird life includes the occasional late autumn osprey and loon, and the more common Blue Heron and Red-Tailed and Cooper’s Hawks as well as migratory ducks and eagles.
Drifting near shore in October puts the paddler in the middle of schools of shad that swim an inch or two below the surface by the thousands. The surface of the lake is punctured by mini explosions and flashes of silver in the sunlight as they leap over the bow of your boat. The shad are 2 to three inches long, and food for the largemouth bass, bluegill, bullheads, carp, muskellunge, walleye, and catfish that populate the lake.