$1.1M Sale Puts McKelvey Lake on Path to New Park

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It’s been an effort nearly 60 years in the making, but McKelvey Lake is now on the path to becoming a recreational area as part of Youngstown’s parks department.

On Dec. 22, Aqua Infrastructure LLC, a subsidiary of Aqua America, sold 10 parcels of land near the lake to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy for $1.1 million. That same day, the nonprofit, transferred the property to the city. 

The conservancy’s purchase was funded primarily by an $831,000 grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission awarded in 2017. In the awarding document, the commission states the project will be a “public passive park” that includes the 125-acre lake, 400 acres of property, 26 acres of wetland and 6,872 feet of streams. At the time, the Western Reserve Land Conservancy expected to transfer to property by the end of 2018.

Beginning next year, the city will work with Western Reserve Land Conservancy to host community meetings on how to best use the park, said Nikki Posterli, the city’s director of community planning and economic development.

“[We’ll be] interviewing the area’s residents and community stakeholders to make the lake a Youngstown destination,” she said in an email to The Business Journal. “There will be a series of planning meetings in 2021 to begin the process of transforming the property into a family-friendly recreation spot to include ideas from the residents in that neighborhood.”

Previous discussions of what to do with the space have included its potential use for fishing, kayaking and hiking, she added. In 2005, Youngstown received a Clean Ohio grant to purchase 200 acres of woodland between the dam and Lincoln Park to preserve the land in its natural state.

“Acquiring McKelvey Lake represents an opportunity of revitalizing that goes beyond geography. It will transform the heart and soul of this city internally and become a new regional destination location for many,” said Dawn Turnage, director of the Youngstown Parks and Recreation Department. “Operation of the lake will require stewardship of the land and the waters, as well as serve as an economic development opportunity. We will be intentional at including our youth in the planning, development, and employment processes as they emerge into future leaders of our beautiful city.” 

Part of the work to turn McKelvey Lake into a public park will also include repairs and cleaning. The dam that created the lake, built in 1926, is in need of repairs. As part of the agreement, Aqua Ohio will spend about $1.5 million repairing the dam, spokesman Jeff LaRue said.

Some environmental mitigation may also be required. In 2012, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department hosted a diving exercise at McKelvey Lake, recovering items ranging from knives and guns to cars and a studio recording mixing board. Urban legends also tie the lake to the city’s history with the mob, claiming that crime figures sometimes used the lake to dump bodies.

Sitting about three miles east of downtown Youngstown, McKelvey Lake initially served as a water supply to Youngstown’s industrial sites. After those sites shuttered in the 1980s, Aqua Ohio began using it as a backup water source for Campbell’s water treatment plant. 

Now, the water company’s “ultimate plan” is to phase out the Campbell plant and supply the city from Struthers’ plant,” LaRue said.

“We have no use for the lake any more,” he said, leading to the sale to the land conservancy, which “shares Aqua Ohio’s desire to protect the area environmentally.” 

The idea of a formal park around McKelvey Lake is one that dates back to 1962 and the city’s Development Plan for Northeast Youngstown. The plan outlined ways the city could spur residential development on the East Side. That part of the city was chosen because of its vast amounts of greenspace. 

A major component of the plan was the creation of McKelvey Park, a 740-acre area that would create a “suburb with a city,” including a beach and marina for nonmotor boats. It also suggested a development, McGuffey New Town, on Jacobs Road that would include single-family homes, storefronts, professional offices and a museum dedicated to educator William Holmes McGuffey.

While the ideas laid out in that 1962 plan were largely left to the side, a neighborhood was built on McKelvey Lake in the 1990s, Beechwood Estate.

Pictured: Land around McKelvey Lake, on Youngstown’s east side, will be converted into a public greenspace.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.