Friends of the Blackfork - History of the Black Fork

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Shelby, Ohio

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The Black Fork River is susceptible to flooding the City of Shelby.  The serpentine, meandering course of the river creates many log jams.  The most recent floods have occurred in 1987, 2007, and 2011 when the River reaches a height of 15' 9" it hits the bottom of the Main St. Bridge.

Most of the Black Fork’s 58-plus miles are upstream of Charles Mill Lake. The Black Fork originates west of Mansfield and flows north through Shelby, turns east then wends its way south to Mifflin.

The Black Fork starts out as an intermittent creek south of U.S. 30 and west of Mansfield. A mere trickle of a stream — except after heavy rains — it snakes through a relatively flat landscape dotted with hills.

The Black Fork is fed by runoff from the hills and accelerated by its descent from higher ground. There is an elevation drop of 355 feet and then it just flattens out.This elevation drop occurs over a nine-mile stretch of Black Fork. Downstream from Shelby, it’s a different story. From Plymouth Springmill Road northeast of town, the elevation drops only 50 feet over the next 28 miles before the river eventually flows into Charles Mill Lake.

Charles Mill Lake was formed in the 1930s with the construction of a flood control dam on Black Fork. This was part of a comprehensive program in response to chronic flooding, including the devastating 1913 flood, which killed 467 people statewide. Charles Mill Dam is one of 14 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams built along the Muskingum Watershed.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District provides access at a public boat ramp off State Route 430. MWCD owns and operates Charles Mill Lake Park. (The dam falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.)

The water impounded by Charles Mill Dam turned a chain of three small lakes into one 1,350-acre lake. Historian Abraham J. Baughman wrote in 1909 that the Mifflin Lakes, originally named the Petersburg Lakes, were remarkably deep. Baughman claimed that the 60-acre lower lake — the biggest of the three — was believed to have been 50-100 feet deep. However, with the massive expansion of surface water forming Charles Mill Lake, the average depth was reduced to eight feet.

Over the years, topsoil that washed downstream from the upper Black Fork reduced the average depth to five feet.

Charles Mill Damn

Charles Mill Damn

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