Friends of the Blackfork - History of the Black Fork

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Shelby, Ohio

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A REPEATED HISTORY OF FLOODING


The Black Fork, a branch of the Mohican River, has a history of repeated and extreme flooding throughout Richland County -- including $77 million in property damages and $6 million in crop damage between 1996 and 2011. Floodwater damages homes and businesses, interrupts transportation and emergency services, and threatens public safety.

Flooding also hurts the region’s ability to retain and attract new jobs: it is the number one threat to economic development according to the 2017 City of Shelby Economic Development Action Plan. The plan notes, “a viable long-term solution to these flooding problems is essential.”

 

WHAT CAUSES FLOODING?

In short, major rain events (prolonged rainfall over several days or when there is intense rainfall in a short period of time) will overwhelm the river and stream channels and cause flooding of homes, businesses and farm fields.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Lack of places to capture and store large volumes of water
  • Older and under-sized bridges and culverts
  • Debris, such as log jams

The erosion of stream and river banks during flooding also causes more sediment to run off, which decreases water quality. Repeated flooding of farm fields and urbanized areas also contributes to water contamination.

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

Black Fork River

The Black Fork River is a principal tributary of the Mohican River and is 58.4 miles (94 km) long in north-central Ohio in the United States. The Black Fork River drains an area of 351 square miles (909 km) and is part of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

The Black Fork starts about 7 miles (11 km) west of Mansfield in Richland County, and initially flows northward through the city of Shelby, then eastward across northern Richland County before turning southeast for the remainder of its course through eastern Richland and southern Ashland Counties, past the towns of Perrysville and Loudonville. It joins the Clear Fork in Ashland County to form the Mohican River, about 2 miles (3 km) southwest of Loudonville.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam in Ashland County, completed in 1936, causes the Black Fork to form Charles Mill Lake.

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