Kevin Whaley recently posted a story about "One Tank Trips" and asked for suggestions of nearby attractions that hadn't been covered in his post or the article he referenced from FortWayneHompage.net. I immediately thought of one of my favorite spots across the border in Ohio, Independence Dam State Park. I got it into my head on Friday to take the family up to the Toledo Zoo this weekend, perhaps that seed was planted when I read Kevin's post. And Independence Dam IS on the way. . . I discovered this gem quite by acccident about 20 years back. Back in my single days, I used to spend many of my days off exploring neighboring counties just to see what I could find. That's how I came across Independence Dam.
The park runs along a seven-mile stretch of the Maumee River just east of Defiance, Ohio. It's unique in that it's a rather narrow park, maybe a quarter-mile at it's very widest, that is squeezed between the Maumee River on one side and the old Wabash & Erie Canal and the former US 24 (Now Ohio 424) on the other.
There is one entrance, and cars may traverse the park for only a short way in, perhaps a mile and a half. Beyond that, it's pedal power or hoofing it. By car, you can make it past the dam (pictured below), several pavilion areas and to a playground that's a favorite stop for my kids. I've never ventured far beyond that point thus far; but the explorer in me yearns to return and bike or hike the remainder of the park at some point in the future.
Right at the very entrance to the park is Lock #13 of the old canal. The dam itself was built to provide slack water for the canal, and was named for the nearby canal town of Independence. The existing dam on the Maumee River was completed in 1924. This cement dam replaced the original wooden dam which was built in the 1800s for the canal system. At the time of the rebuilding of the structure, several organizations expressed support for a park between the old canal bed and the river and the Ohio Department of Public Works purchased private lands to create the park. The bustling burg of Independence once rivaled Defiance in size, but died along with the canals in the mid 1800's.
From the flip side of the sign, I learned that this canal was on the trunk line of both the Miami & Erie and Wabash & Erie canals. The two canals joined together at a point some 15 miles southwest of this location. Clicking either of these sign pictures will bring the text up to an easily readable size.
This shot is of the canal, at the site of Lock #13, facing towards Toledo.
This shot, from the same location, faces towards Fort Wayne.
Here are a couple of shots of the Maumee River from the park. I'm not sure that the pictures do it justice, but it's simply amazing how wide the Maumee is here, a mere 50 miles or so from it's birth here in Fort Wayne.
I encourage you to experience this park for yourself! From Fort Wayne, travel east on US 24 to just past Defiance, Ohio. You'll need to exit at State Route 281, which is clearly marked "Independence Dam". 281 will take you to State Route 424 in less than one mile, and 424 east takes you to the park entrance in just under two miles. Expect about a one hour drive and, pack a picnic lunch, your cross-trainers or bicycles, and fishing tackle if you're so inclined. Oh! And if you have little ones, look for this area at the end of the drivable part of the park. . .