Web Content Viewer
Web Content Viewer

Ohio State Parks & Watercraft

Alum Creek State Park during Spring

Mission Statement

To provide exceptional outdoor recreation and boating opportunities by balancing outstanding customer service, education, protection and conservation of Ohio’s state parks and waterways.

Vision Statement

To be a diverse and skilled team empowered to deliver the highest standard of excellence in outdoor recreation and sound resource management.

Strategic Planning

We are currently in the middle of a new strategic planning initiative that will help guide us over the next few years. It is our hope that this initiative will reflect the goals of the statewide community, including our dedicated staff, state business and civic leaders and the many special communities we serve and support.
Download the Goals & Objectives Overview
Download the Strategic Plan


In 2016, the ODNR Division of Parks and Recreation merged with the ODNR Division of Watercraft. There were a number of benefits from the merger including improving customer service, saving on facility costs, and staff flexibility for both the parks and boating programs.

Today, most state park offices offer customers the ability to make reservations, register their boat, schedule boat inspections and find nature and boating education programs. The division's Natural Resources Officers provide law enforcement support to all parks facilities as well as across the waters of Ohio. This flexibility improves customer engagement and offers a flexible solution to safety issues.

History of Ohio State Parks

Ohioans have long been drawn to the woods and waters of their beloved Buckeye State. Ohio’s system of state parks was officially formed in 1949 when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources was created, but it has its roots in the 19th century.

When the canal era ended in Ohio, a number of artificial lakes and surrounding lands became popular destinations for outdoor recreation and family outings. Those lands, including Ohio’s first state park, Buckeye Lake, were combined with forest parks, such as Hocking Hills, to become the foundation of today’s modern system.

In the early 1900s, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt inspired the nation with his love of the outdoors and creation of a new national park system. Ohioans began developing its own conservation movement by passing laws, creating agencies and buying land to protect forests, fish, and game.

After World War II, state lawmakers consolidated the assortment of state lands to provide consistent management and administration of public lands and facilities. Senate Bill 13 of the 98th General Assembly, effective October 7, 1949, created the Division of Parks within the new Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

History of Recreational Boating in Ohio

Prior to the late 1800s, most boating in Ohio was a transportation and commerce necessity. The Ohio and Erie Canal, which became operative from Akron to Cleveland in 1827, was economic boon for Ohio and served as a link to needed resources. The Miami and Erie Canal, which comprised three canals (the Miami Canal running from Cincinnati to Dayton, the Miami Extension, and the Wabash and Erie Canal), was officially designated in 1849.

Boating as a recreational activity was popularized by sailing regattas held on Lake Erie in the late 1800s. The first international sailing regatta on the Great Lakes was held at Put-in-Bay in September 1871. The Inter-Lake Yachting Association (ILYA) was conceived in July 1884 at Put-in-Bay Harbor and was formally organized in 1885 at a meeting for the Cleveland Yachting Association and the Cleveland Canoe Club. Interest in regatta sailing races was so great that in 1900 carrier pigeons were dispatched from a boat at the finish line to fly the results to the Sandusky Star, the local evening newspaper.

For many Ohioans, Lake Erie weekends were not a recreational option. Folks living inland flocked to the rivers for recreational boating and fishing opportunities. Popular family vacation destinations included the Maumee, Miami, Muskingum, Tuscarawas, and Ohio rivers, which provided ample opportunity to spend on-the-water time with family and friends.

Production of the first Evinrude outboard motor in 1909 opened the doors to modern recreational boating. In the 1920s, the high cost of owning and operating powerboats meant that recreational use was reserved for the wealthy. The Depression of the 1930s tremendously slowed the growth of recreational boating, but after World War II the demand for leisure time activities dramatically increased, including a resurgence of competitive racing.

Until the 1970s, boat owners registered their boats locally, for a particular body of water — thus requiring multiple registrations for a single vessel if it was used in different bodies of water.