Ohio Quarry, Home to Rare Fish and Flying Machines

Trip Start Aug 08, 2009
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Trip End Aug 19, 2009


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Flag of United States  , Ohio
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gilboa Quarry, Ottawa, OH

When Mike Williams bought the old limestone Gilboa Quarry nestled amongst the cornfields of northwest Ohio, he didn't even know how to dive yet.

"Mike grew up on a farm," says his wife Jodi, checking over my

dive waiver at the onsite shop. “He said he always wanted to go swimming and fishing in the nearby quarries—but the family was always too busy working the farm.” His dream she says—was to buy a quarry where he could use it any time he liked. And so he did in

2000.

Mike and Jodi are both divers now—but the quarry has become such a busy recreational location with scuba diving, camping, canoeing and even 75 foot climbing wall on the face of one of the old buildings, that the two have actually never dived together.

“Isn’t that crazy,” she says, laughing at the irony. But their hard work

has made the quarry one of the most popular inland, freshwater dive sites that scuba shops from all over Ohio and surrounding states bring their customers to train and dive here.

“On any given day,” Mike says, “we have people visiting from 5-10 states and at least two countries.”

But when I ask him how many visitors the quarry gets monthly or even annually he clams up.

“The quarry business is very competitive,” he tells me, “I’d rather

that information be kept out of the story.”

I’m surprised—but Mike says many of the other quarry operators are jealous of Gilboa. There’s good reason—the quarry, Mike claims, at 139 feet, is the deepest body of water in Ohio (excluding areas outside of the Lake Erie shoreline).

Salvage Yard and Rare Fish

It also has much to see. Over the years, Mike has worked to fill it with all kinds of unusual, large attractions including, a Gulfstream jet he says he got from an airport outside Detroit, a full sized school bus, several cars, trucks and boats—and most famously a huge Sikorsky cargo helicopter.

“Planes and cars are a dime a dozen,” he says, “but not everyone can get a helicopter.” When I press him on where he got it—he again holds his tongue, not wanting to give anything away to competitors.

Many of the items had to be trucked in. Mike says the plane was in seven pieces, which he welded back together before submerging it. He says it costs him thousands of dollars to put it in the quarry.

“I could’ve sold it and made money,” he says, “but I told people I was going to sink it and I did. I kept my word.”

But what makes Gilboa so different from other inland scuba sites is that this virtual salvage yard coexists with a wide and diverse variety of fish from large, homely catfish to the ubiquitous blue gill and rainbow trout.

But one of the biggest draws is the once endangered paddlefish, a shy creature which can grow up to seven feet long and weigh as much as 175 pounds. The paddlefish resembles a cross between a swordfish, with it’s pronounced proboscis and the gaping jaws of a catfish. They avoid divers for the most part, preferring to hang out in the shallows at the north end fo the quarry, the side where fewer divers venture.

As I suit up on one of the campsite picnic tables there are lots of other divers getting ready to take the plunge—at least three states are represented, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Once in the water I quickly see why the site is so popular. Even despite hard thundershowers the night before, visibility is easily 50 to 65 feet. The surrounding vehicles are  also very easy to navigate with rope lines stretching to each from the floating diver entry platforms which number eight in all.

My Dives

My initial descent is on top of an old Grand Marquis looking like someone took a wrong turn after watching a drive-in movie and ending up in a bad spot at the bottom of a lake.

Directly in front of the main platforms is the submerged Gulfstream, it’s tail rudder just visible through a yellowish haze of tiny algae and sediment.  The doors have been taken off the front and real of the plane allowing divers a relatively unimpeded swing through.

The Sikorsky lies just to the right of the Gulfstream  in 45 feet of water. Its rotors have been removed but the fuselage all still in place, it’s a looming underwater giant at  73-feet long.

Beyond that is a school bus, which again, conjures an eirie backstory for me—a bus with no brakes on a steep decline and the driver  losing control on a sharp “S” turn and plunging through the guard rails into a body of below.

As I swim over the top of the bus, something strange happens. I begin to notice that what seems like every fish in the quarry, except the , are now swimming circles around me like I was a giant bait ball. As I turn to face them they become really aggressive, darting and dashing past my camera which I hold out in front of me. They are relentless. I snap away dozens of pictures at these crazy, kamikaze fish, which I could easilty grab by the tail if I wanted. I’m thinking that maybe I’ve stirred up some tiny food for them off the vehicles with my fins. But when I emerge from the quarry after my dive-- some regulars tell me that the top of the bus is the place everyone goes to feed the fish, usually knocking three times on the roof to call them to dinner.

Mystery solved. Even fish--it seems—have a Pavlovian response when it comes to meal time.

On my first dive, before exploring all the underwater vehicles, I wanted to get an idea of visibility and temperature at depth. I swim out 50 yards to the northern ledge where the bottom drops off into darkness. I begin a planned deep descent to 110 feet just five feet shy of the sloping bottom in the area I’m diving. I look at my computer and see that the water temperature here has dropped to 43 degrees. I can feel the cold on the exposed area of my face and neck and am grateful I’m wearing a dry suit. As I slowly ascend, I spot a newer looking finger spool dropped by a diver and unraveled on a limestone ledge. I pick it up and begin to wind the string as I swim back up over the ledge to a dive extending 40 feet.

In addition to the depth, fish and vehicles the quarry also has a series of large plastic tubes at it’s west end, where divers can practice their buoyancy by swimming through them like a giant scuba habitrail.

Mike also has planes to sink as series of concrete squares to build what could be the longest man-made tunnel at 200 feet—sure to make cave diving aficionados happy.

“Scubastock”

It may be that desire to outsmart the competition, but it seems like thinking big is the way Mike Williams believes he’ll stay ahead of everyone else. For example, just last month—the Gilboa Quarry hosted an attempt to set a Guinness Book of World’s Records for the most people to scuba dive at one time. He and local dive shops were able  to attract 794 divers—many who camped out on adjacent farmland.

“It was Scubastock,” laughs Jodi, “Woodstock without the sex, drugs

and rock and roll.”

They may have established a freshwater diving record but Indonesia has reportedly passed them with a dive of more than 2,000.

Not to be outdone, Mike plans another attempt for July 17, 2010 when he wants to get 3,500 divers into the quarry—which leaves me wondering if there would be any water left after such a massive entry.

Regardless of whether he succeeds or not, Gilboa Quarry is an exciting and unique underwater world—one which I hope the owners Mike and Jodie, can slow down long enough o actually get a chance to to share a dive together.

For more information call, 419.456.3300 or go to www.divegilboa.com

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