Last dip in Hinckley Lake brings back memories

by Chris Studor

Unloading beach towels, sand buckets, nets and a cooler from the trunk of her car, Hinckley resident Laura Johnson recalled all the summer days she has spent at Hinckley Lake.

On a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, she and a crowd of swimmers and picnickers were enjoying their last days of swimming in the lower part of the lake before it closes for two years to repair the Hinckley Lake dam. Meanwhile, at the upper lake, boaters, kayakers and paddle boarders enjoyed the scenery.

“I always come here to meet with my grandchildren,” said Johnson. “This is a great place for them because there’s so much shallow water. As you see, I’ve got buckets and nets for the kids who try and catch crayfish then release them.”

Johnson recalled working at the Hinckley Lake ice cream stand when she was just 16 years old and a day when an earthquake struck the area.

“We were all busy at work making and serving ice cream cones and you could see the equipment start to shake. Everything was moving,” said Johnson.

While there hasn’t been an earthquake in recent years, ground has been moving as tons of silt has been removed from the lake in preparation to repair the dam. During the two-year repair period, both the upper and lower lakes will be drained.

Following summer activities, the dam rehabilitation will begin Sept. 18. The project requires the lake to remain drained until the dam rehabilitation is completed, which is expected by summer of 2026 based on the current projections and funding, said Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman. Hinckley Reservation (park area) will remain open throughout the project but access to the upper and lower lake will be prohibited once the project commences.

Sean McDermott, chief planning officer for the Cleveland Metroparks, described how the water will be emptied from the lake.

“People probably don’t know this, but there is a valve in the upper lake which we actually test each year to make sure it is working,” said McDermott. “As for the swimming lake, there is a valve we can use to drain that lake. It’s going to take many, many weeks to drain all that water.”

McDermott will host a presentation on the Hinckley dam project at the Highland Library, on Wednesday, Oct. 18, from 6:30-8 p.m.

 The dam rehabilitation, expected to cost $8-9 million, is being designed by Michael Baker International Inc. and will be constructed by the Great Lakes Construction Company in partnership with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers. The project is expected to be completed in summer of 2026.

The 100-year-old, 39.6-feet dam is a combination of an earth embankment 750 feet long encompassing the 110 acre-Hinckley Lake, with a lower spillway section measuring 150 feet long by 32 feet high.

Until the completion of the rehabilitation, however, local residents will be missing one of their favorite swimming holes.

As one picnicker, Carmen Rademaker of North Royalton commented, “I wonder what they will find at the bottom of the lake!”

For lifeguard David Austin of Hinckley, this was his third summer watching over swimmers.

“I like working as a lifeguard here because not only is it close to home but I get to see all my friends,” he said.

While Austin was busy keeping an eye on things, three little boys and a girl were busy digging in the sand. Matthew and Evin Atakan of Hinckley and their friend Andrew Szczygiel had created a small sand dam while their mothers, who went to high school together, enjoyed watching their children play.

On hot summer days, it’s easy to see how Hinckley Lake provides a break from the heat for so many local people.  Rich Baranouwski recalled his days at Hinckley Lake as a high school student.

“Every day after football practice, we’d ride our bikes up to Hinckley Lake to cool off.”

Hinckley Lake has always been a great spot for friends and family to meet and have a picnic on a hot summer day. Photos by C. Studor.

Hinckley resident Laura Johnson unpacks her trunk for a day of fun at Hinckley Lake with her grandchildren. Johnson recalled working at the ice cream stand at the lake when she was 16 years old. Photos by C. Studor.

For decades, the community has enjoyed Hinckley Lake for the swimming, picnicking, boating and fishing. Both upper and lower areas of the lake will close Sept. 18 for repair of the dam, a project expected to take two years to complete.

Photo at top of story (main): The spillway at Hinckley Lake has always provided visitors with the perfect spot to explore.