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Mahoning County's Lake Milton in the Northeast Region of Ohio holds a century's-worth of history along its picturesque shores. The area was part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, a 120-mile-wide strip of land granted to the colony of Connecticut in 1662. Once the settlement of Youngstown was established on the Mahoning River in the late 1700s, and coal discovered in the area, it wasn't long until a growing nation's need for steel led Youngstown to become Ohio's steel manufacturing center. When the need for a reliable water supply for the mills and the growing population forced the City of Youngstown to plan a reservoir, 3,416 acres were purchased upstream along the Mahoning River and a dam built to create Lake Milton. First completed in 1917, Lake Milton has endured massive changes in use and development. Now the lovely lake offers water-based recreation, serene lake vistas, and outdoor enjoyment to its many residents and visitors.
Lake Milton covers 1,685 acres along the impounded Mahoning River about 10 miles west of Youngstown. There are no large cities along its shores, but many families call Lake Milton home. Milton Township governs the small neighborhoods and developments stretched along its 23-mile shoreline. The historic community of Craig Beach is the largest village on Lake Milton, although nearly all of the shoreline is developed and contains year-round homes. These are the homes of lakelubbers who spend much of their leisure time enjoying all Lake Milton has to offer. Lake Milton provides great swimming, boating and fishing; most lakefront homeowners have their own docks and many have a small swimming area.
The State of Ohio owns the lake itself, which is designated a part of Lake Milton State Park. Property owners around the shore pay a small fee to maintain their private docks in front of their property. There are no restrictions on motor size so the lake is a favorite of water-skiers, jet-skiers and power-boaters. Some areas are designated no-wake zones, as is the area near the shoreline. Three public launch sites mean not only property owners can enjoy a day of water-filled fun. Lake Milton is a great lake for pontooning and kayaking, with a well-treed shoreline and loads of natural wildlife co-existing with the residents. It isn't uncommon to see a large variety of waterfowl, particularly during the migratory season, and bald eagles can occasionally be seen perched in the treetops.
Fishing is always a major drawing card at lake Milton. The lake supports walleye, largemouth bass, yellow perch, bluegill, smallmouth bass, crappies, white bass, suckers, channel catfish and muskellunge. The Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources stocks walleye and muskellunge regularly; both are a big attraction for game fishermen. In winter, much of the lake freezes enough that ice fishing is a favored pastime. The water level is usually lowered about six feet in winter to avoid ice damage. The lake is ideally located within driving distance of both Youngstown and Akron-Canton, making it a great place to raise children and commute to work. Lake Milton is within two hours of several large cities - Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh - so it's also a favorite for summer cottages and seasonal living. Two golf courses near the lake make sure that golfers in the family are content. The Lake Milton Association organizes activities and fund-raisers to complete special projects around the lake. The Lake Milton Ski Club has completed a water-skiing slalom course near the south end of the lake for their members and are working on building walking trails at the north end.
Lake Milton State Park has day-use facilities at the north end of the lake near Craig Beach and mid-lake near the causeway. The popular park offers a swimming beach, picnic facilities, walking trails, boat launch, playground, wheelchair-accessible fishing dock, basketball and volleyball courts, restrooms and a new Nature and Arts Amphitheater for presentations, concerts and productions. In winter, the trails are open for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Although there is no camping at Lake Milton State Park, a private RV campground is available on the Mahoning River south of the reservoir from which campers can access the lake itself. Fuel and seasonal dock rentals are available at the State Park-owned marina near the causeway.
Lake Milton's future was in serious doubt at one time: the lake was only used as a water supply for about 10 years before the State Health Department declared the waters of the Mahoning River that flowed through Youngstown as unsafe to drink. A new reservoir was built a few miles to the east on another creek, but Lake Milton was still vital in controlling the water that flowed through Youngstown's industrial areas. So important was this role, that a guard was stationed at the dam during WWII to insure the nation's steel production was not endangered. By that time, an amusement park and rental cottage community had already made Craig Beach one of northeastern Ohio's most popular recreational lakes. A 300-couple dance hall kept the area swinging through the big band era. Steubenville native Dean Martin got his start here when a friend challenged him to sing with the orchestra! Craig Beach went from a community of 10 families during the winter to thousands each summer as visitors filled the 500+ rental cottages in the community. Craig Beach was actually incorporated so that the dance hall could remain open on Sundays. Unfortunately, the amusement park failed financially during the Depression, was sold, and the new owners saw a major decline in attendance after a fatal roller coaster accident. Eventually, the amusement park was no more. Craig Beach settled into being a quiet lakefront community.
By 1984, it was obvious that the Lake Milton Dam was failing, and no more patching would maintain its integrity. The dam was finally breached and the lake went dry temporarily. Youngstown relinquished control of the dam to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. A new, modern dam was constructed, and the State enlisted the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain it. Lake Milton State Park was born, with facilities on the grounds of the old amusement park at Craig Beach. Since that time, the lake has returned to its former beauty, with fish stocked regularly and water quality carefully monitored by the State of Ohio. It is likely quieter than it was during the amusement park phase, but enjoyed by just as many visitors.
Residents at Lake Milton have the best of two worlds: lakefront living and nearby big-city amenities. There is a nationally-known water park only half an hour away, and zoos at both Akron and Cleveland. There is a wild animal/safari park a few miles to the east, arts and historical museums in Youngstown and major shopping in all of the larger cities. Restaurants and pizza parlors exist at Lake Milton, along with other basic services both in Craig Beach and in nearby towns. A few private rentals can still be found for a week or a season. New condos invite visitors for both seasonal and year-round living. And there is always real estate available in a wide variety of prices. Formal lodgings in the way of hotels and motels can be found in both Youngstown and Akron. So come and visit beautiful Lake Milton - you'll be hooked. And, just maybe, so will one of those muskies!
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