Pymatuning Lake has a special place in my heart, as the lake where my Grandpa taught me to sail in a fabulous C-Lark 14. There were also many summer camping trips on the Ohio side as a kid, and extended family gatherings in the picnic areas or on the beach- great times! A beautiful lake with parks in Ohio and Pennsylvania, offering camping, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, and more. There’s also a fish hatchery to visit, as well as terrific interpretive centers. Plenty to keep a family busy, but I don’t think any of our trips were complete without a visit to the vaguely unsettling spillway. Advertised as “where the ducks walk on the fish”, the tagline does little to prepare one for the way they really do! A place that everyone needs to go at least once, I made a point of taking my own kids- but they were less than thrilled by the spectacle. They DO still talk about it, though, so it must have been memorable! It’s been years since I’ve been to the spillway, and I needed a destination for a ride on a beautiful morning- so off I went!
Pymatuning is a large man-made reservoir, once a very large swamp, created by damming the Shenango River in the 1930’s. This helped control flooding in the swamp and provide water for the Shenango and Beaver Valleys. The larger recreation area created by the lake is on the PA side, but both OH and PA have Pymatuning State Parks around the lake. A two-mile causeway crosses the lake between Andover, OH and Espy, PA, with pull-off parking to fish or sightseeing. Just over the bridge on the PA side, the popular spillway separates the (higher) upstream portion of the lake from the main body. I rode around the lake for a bit, reminiscing, enjoying the view, and noticing how nice the park upgrades have been through the years. We take our recreation seriously here in the US, and our fantastic park systems certainly support this. If I hadn’t needed to be at work that night, it would have been seriously tempting to camp for the night- but today I was just here for the spillway.
There’s plenty of parking along the spillway, as well as restrooms, ice cream and snack counters. Visitors can also buy stale bread to feed the fish and fowl (ignoring the health implications to the wildlife), though cheaper alternatives can often be found on the ride in. I have seen the place just packed on nice days, but there were just a few families with small children today. Watching folks get their first glimpse of the roiling water is an experience. Realizing one is seeing thousands of giant carp swimming body against body is both compelling and disgusting. They swim on the surface, ducks walking on their backs, their huge heads out of the water, and open mouths noisily sucking at the air in hopes of a breadball thrown their way. It’s freaky, noisy, and just wrong- but I can’t look away! I always get a chuckle seeing a poorly aimed wad of bread expertly snatched mid-air by a member of the seagull air force. This either leads the child who tossed the bread to laugh hysterically at the flying catch, or cry angrily that their bread did not make it to the intended scrum of fish. Watching crowd reactions is as fun as watching the water antics!
The entire Pymatuning area, spillway included, is still very rustic and rural, but it’s cleaner and much nicer than I remember. Just over an hour’s easy ride from my house, it’s still a great day trip. Any further, and the camping in the parks is a nice alternative to a long one-day drive. As for the spillway? I still love it, and think everyone should go. Now adult StellarSon’s reaction to the pic I texted his way? “GROOOOSSSSSS”. ‘Bout says it all!
Enjoy your travels!