Lying within the vast Darby Plains of Ohio, Madison Lake State Park provides a peaceful day-use getaway for visitors of all ages. When the region was first settled, the grassy meadows were assumed to be unsuitable for farming. Later, as agricultural techniques improved, the area became an important livestock center. In the 1940s, a dam was built across Deer Creek, which created Madison Lake. Today, the 106-acre lake attracts anglers and offers excellent sailing, rowing, and canoeing opportunities. Lovely in any season, the park’s 1-mile trail takes visitors along the lakeshore and a shelter house provides the perfect spot for family reunions and other special events.
Madison Lake offers a perfect spot for paddling, sailing, and boating with electric motors. A launch ramp provides access to the 106-acre lake.
Dog Swim Area
A designated (unfenced) area allows off-leash access to the lake for supervised dogs. The dog swim area is located on the west side of the lake; parking is available nearby.
Fishing is popular here and anglers will enjoy plentiful catches of bass, bluegill, crappie, channel catfish and bullhead.
The north end of the lake is a designated hunting area for waterfowl only.
Multiple picnic areas surround the lake. There are two shelterhouses, one on the east side and one on the west side of the lake. Tables, grills, playground and latrines are provided. Shelterhouses are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A 300-foot sand beach provides enjoyment for swimmers and sunbathers. Latrines are available. Swimming is permitted in designated areas. Please exercise caution while swimming at the beach.
- BeachGuard — Water quality advisories, Memorial Day to Labor Day, from Ohio Dept. of Health
A scenic one-mile hiking trail takes visitors through woodlands and along the lakeshore.
Access this loop trail on the west side of the lake near the shelterhouse.
More to Do
Basketball and volleyball courts are located near the beach.
History & Natural Features
This area was first inhabited by Native Americans. The first non-Native American to settle in the area was Jonathan Alder. Alder was captured by local Native Americans as a child and released 15 years later. In 1796 he became the first permanent white settler along Big Darby Creek in the Darby Plains. Darby Creek was named after a Wyandot Chief (Darby) who resided along the stream.
Settlers considered the Darby Plains and other Ohio prairies unsuitable for farming, reasoning that treeless land must be infertile. Wood for fuel and building materials had to be hauled from distant woodlands, and the wet prairies became impassable during heavy rains. During dry periods, fires frequently swept the landscape, and early attempts to plow the soil were thwarted by the tough, thick prairie sod. Eventually, as drainage systems improved and the steel plow was invented, settlement increased on the prairie.
The Darby Plains soon became a well-known and important livestock center where large herds of cattle were raised and shipped to eastern markets. Perhaps this is due to the tough prairie sod being more suitable for grazing than for tilling. The livestock sales at London, Ohio obtained a wide distinction throughout the central and western states among cattle and horse dealers. On the day before the sales, the various roads leading to London became clogged with droves of cattle. The cattle were brought from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and other states. Several thousand people would crowd the streets to witness the sales and transact business.
In 1946, a small tract of land in the area was deeded to the state of Ohio for the purpose of developing a lake. Under the supervision of the old Division of Conservation, a dam was constructed across Deer Creek. The lake was filled by 1947, and in 1950, the 106-acre Madison Lake was turned over to the newly created Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Madison Lake State Park lies within the Darby Plains of Madison County. These plains, before settlement, resembled smaller versions of the Great Plains found in the West. Ohio's original landscape, before being altered by man, was about 95 percent forest with the remaining 5 percent comprised of wetlands and prairies. In Ohio, there were about 1,000 square miles of prairie encompassing the land.
During a dry period, about 4,000 years ago, conditions were favorable that allowed prairies to expand eastward into Ohio. This extension known as the Prairie Peninsula covered an area east of the Missouri River, south of the Great Lakes and north of the Ohio River. In time, the climate became more humid and more favorable for forest growth. The prairie retreated to the Indiana-Illinois border leaving isolated pockets in Ohio. Few prairies survive in Ohio because agriculture, woody plants and Eurasian weeds have taken their toll. Prairies do still exist along highway and railroad right-of-ways, marsh borders, and abandoned cemeteries.
One of the best examples of existing prairie in Ohio is within the Darby Plains of Madison County. Bigelow Cemetery State Nature Preserve near Chuckery contains significant prairie plants including big bluestem, Indian grass, and purple coneflower. Smith Cemetery Prairie, also of Madison County, contains stiff goldenrod, gray willow and wild petunia.
Animals that favor the habitat of this area include the woodchuck (groundhog), red fox, ring-necked pheasant, 13-lined ground squirrel, and numerous songbirds. Kestrels, horned larks, bobolinks, and meadowlarks can be spotted in the park. The lake supports populations of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds.