by Linda Lee Walden & Lynn Laymon

A stone and concrete ledge runs around three sides of the lake. Only a few feet beneath the surface, it forms a convenient platform for entries and exits.

 
Visitors to Portage often stay overnight in tents or campers.
 
 
We appreciate the time Linda Lee Walden & Lynn Laymon took to complete a thorough article on Portage Quarry. We also thank the publishers and editors of Dive Training Magazine for the use of this article and for the dedication to midwest diving.
A diver peers into the mouth of a large cement mixer left from quarry operations.
The Great Lakes Wrecking Crew, a Michigan dive club, is developing a navigation course for Portage Quarry. Here members are seen sinking a semi cab.
 

Portage Quarry Recreation Club:

Lots to See and Do

Like so many inland dive destinations in the Midwest and East, Portage was originally excavated as a limestone quarry. In this case, mining began in the 1940s to provide concrete and gravel for road building in northwestern Ohio.

The quarry, one mile (1.6 km) south of the town of Bowling Green, was closed in 1962 because the stone wasn't hard enough for use in constructing Interstate 75. Natural springs caused the 70-foot-deep (21-m) hole to flood, creating a 23-acre lake.

In 1978, local dive instructor Jeff Rice took over a 50-acre property surrounding the lake and developed the Portage Quarry Recreation Club. For 25 years the multipurpose facility has been a favorite for scuba training and recreational diving, as well as swimming, camping and summer activities.

 

Portage Underwater

Thanks to several unique features, scuba instructors from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Illinois and Ontario, Canada, regularly conduct open-water training at Portage.

Particularly noteworthy is the stone and concrete ledge that runs around three sides of the lake. Only a couple of feet beneath the surface, it forms a convenient platform for entries and exits. Instructors can stage their classes al- most anywhere along three shores of the roughly rectangular lake, preventing the congestion often associated with limited water access points.

The east end of the lake is relatively shallow, with two 8-foot- (2.4-m-) square training platforms placed at depths between 20 and 30 feet (6 and 9m).

The west end of the lake, on the other hand, drops off from the ledge to more than 50 feet (15 m). Two more steel- grated training platforms have been placed near shore at 25 feet (8 m) deep.

One of the unique underwater attractions at Portage is the silo, a remnant of quarry operations. Just off the north shore near the swimming area, it was once filled with concrete powder; now it rises from the quarry floor at 55 feet (17 m) to within 20 feet of the surface.

Snorkelers get a good view of the gently sloping roof, which is often used by instructors as a training platform.

As with other quarries redeveloped for scuba diving, the lake at Portage Quarry Recreation Club contains a number of man-made underwater features. Several boats, a small plane, a motorcycle, a phone booth, old cars, a school bus, a semicab and a large tractor-trailer lie scattered at various depths around the bottom. Unlike most quarries, however, Portage is equipped with underwater navigation aids for finding features.

Several years ago the Great Lakes Wrecking Crew, a dive club from nearby Milan, Michigan, conceived the idea of building an underwater navigation course at Portage. "We wanted to keep our members interested in diving," says Tyler Schultz, an instructor and one of the founders of the 50-member social and educational scuba club.

The navigation course, which is still a work in progress, divides the lake into quadrants. Nylon line stretches at a depth of 25 feet (8 m) from the four comers of the lake to the geographical center. A submerged truck and boat greet divers at the intersection.

From the guide rope, additional features can be found by sight. For in- stance, a Ford Bronco lies near the southeast corner at a depth of 54 feet (16 m). Extending straight upward from the Bronco is a 30-foot (9-m) length of 3-inch (7.6-cm) diameter plastic pipe. A diver following the guide line at 25 feet can see the pipe and navigate to the Bronco. From there, an additional line leads the diver to a boat suspended bow-down in midwater. In this manner divers are led from object to object.

Features are placed at various depths to suit novice as well as more experienced divers. "The course is designed to encourage divers not to be intimidated by new situations, to go beyond what they are familiar with," says Schultz. To date work has progressed mainly on the eastside quadrants, but Wrecking Crew members can be spotted almost every summer weekend at Portage, installing new navigation aids and placing additional features for divers to explore.

If all the man-made attractions aren't sufficient to keep divers engaged, the natural inhabitants surely will. The lake supports a significant population of freshwater fish, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, carp, northern pike, walleye, channel catfish and yellow bullhead. Crayfish, turtles and zebra mussels can also be spotted.

The proliferation of zebra mussels, which has seriously damaged some ecosystems, has thus far benefited Portage by improving the visibility. Visibility typically ranges from 30 to 50 feet (9 to 15 m) during the summer diving season, but has been recorded as high as 70 feet (21 m) in September.

When Portage opens in late May, the water temperature is in the low 60s Fahrenheit (high teens Celsius) at the surface and the 40s F (single digits C) at depth, with a thermocline at about 10 feet (3 m). By late summer it has warmed to the high 70s F (upper 20s C), at the surface and low 60s at depth, and the thermocline has dropped below 30 feet.

 

Topside Amenities

The in-water convenience of Portage Quarry Recreation Club is well-complemented by the above-water facilities. Except for the sandy beach fronting the cordoned-off swimming area, the lake is surrounded on three sides by open grass and shade trees. Divers set up base camps all along the shore with parking and porta-potties nearby. A restroom building with changing rooms and showers is also provided, as is a gear rinsing station. Air and nitrox fills are available on site from two 25-cubic- feet-per-minute (cfm) compressors.

The main structure includes a gift shop and a snack bar open seven days a week, adjacent to a large covered pavilion with picnic tables. There is also a full-service dive center. Although the club caters to scuba classes from regional dive centers, the on-site instructor does offer a variety of courses on request. The lake is suitable for beginning, advanced and specialty training dives.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club has become a weekend getaway for divers from surrounding states and their families. Many pack their campers or tents and overnight in the 23-site primitive campground (i.e., no electric or water hookups) at the club, or stay at one of the motels in Bowling Green (one mile north) or Portage village (one-half mile south). Upgrading of campsites to include water and electric hookups is planned for later this summer.

Recreational facilities include three sand volleyball courts, used for scheduled tournaments as well as frequent pickup games. The clean sand beach and lifeguard-monitored swimming area with two floating platforms attract many local beachgoers. Hydro bikes can be rented by the hour.

The Slippery Elm trail passes by about a mile from the club. This former railway bed has been transformed into a 13.5-mile (22-km) asphalt jogging/bicycling path that winds through the rural Ohio countryside.

Portage Quarry Recreation Club hosts several events during the summer. Fourth of July weekend provides the occasion for an annual "BlowOut" party featuring a number of bands. A barbecue is held the last Saturday in July to benefit the Divers Alert Network (DAN). Several additional band concerts are scheduled throughout the summer.

 

Details

To reach Portage Quarry Recreation Club, take Interstate 75 to U.S. Route 6 west (Exit 179). The club is one mile south on Ohio State Route 25.

Portage staff is prepared in case of a diving emergency. Local medical corps response time is about three minutes. The nearest recompression chamber is at Toledo hospital, less than 30 miles north; Lifeflight is in operation.

The club is open seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, before and after these dates on weekends as weather permits. Night diving is available on weekends by reservation. Pets and fishing are not permitted.

Admission for divers is $8 per person. For complete information on 2003 season hours, events and prices, check the Portage Web site (www.portagequarry.com), or call (419) 352-9203.

Dive Training Magazine,
June 2003

Reproduced with Permission from
Linda Lee Walden & Lynn Laymon

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