End of an era at Leesville Lake - Clow's Marina sold to new owner

May 21, 2012

The Clow name and Leesville Lake go hand in hand.


For nearly half a century, Clow’s Marina at the lake located between the Carroll County villages of Leesville and Sherrodsville has been operated by the Clow family. But even though that business dynasty is coming to an end, the marina will remain open and strong as ever under the leadership of a new owner.


Paul and Linda Clow have sold the marina business to Keith Ott of Akron, a long-time marina manager and service technician with experience in Ohio and Florida. Clow’s Marina is located on land near Leesville Dam that is leased from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) and the MWCD’s Board of Directors honored the Clows for more than 48 years of service to the Leesville Lake community during a meeting Friday (May 18) at New Philadelphia.


“I will miss the people who came in here and that’s the main thing,” Paul Clow said. “But I am ready to relax and have that stress gone. And we’ll be out there boating and doing a lot of fishing.”


The marina has been a way of life for Clow, who was in high school when his parents Ed and Sue Clow took over the operation in 1964. The Clows practically were round-the-clock fixtures at the marina from that moment on, talking fishing, boating and camping with visitors from around Ohio and the entire United States. Ed even spent the night camping beside the dam at the lake the night before it opened to the public for boating more than 70 years ago, and he and his family enjoyed it as their source of livelihood and recreation from then on.


“There’s a lot of memories here for all of us,” Paul Clow said. “I know that when (Ed and Sue) started here, camping cost $1.25 per night at the campground and we mowed everything by hand back then. Lots of things have changed, but we still see a lot of the same people every year.”


Keeping those customers coming back now is the focus of Ott and his wife Danielle, but the marina business certainly is nothing new to them.


Keith Ott grew up in the shadow of the Portage Lakes in the Akron area, spent plenty of time boating and fishing on Atwood and Tappan lakes, and has family in the Freeport area that introduced him to the MWCD reservoirs. He has more than 25 years in the marina industry, serving as a service manager and technician, including as the owner of a marine services company in the Sandusky area for several years and most recently as a general manager of a new marina in Pompano Beach, Fla., charged with opening the business.


And he has fallen in love with Leesville Lake and Clow’s Marina.


“My philosophy is pretty simple here: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” he said. “I want to keep it simple and fun for the people who come to Leesville Lake and visit the marina.”


Ott said he does not have plans for any major changes, especially this season as he learns more about the marina and the needs of customers. But he wants to assure boaters that the marina will continue to be a boat dealer, will offer plenty of boating and fishing supplies, gradually build the food service into a restaurant and utilize his background to offer boat mechanic services.


“I like it that it is not mayhem on this lake and the MWCD lakes in general on the summer weekends,” Ott said. “I like it that you can take your family and enjoy a peaceful and relaxing day of boating and fishing at this lake. Our job is to make sure you have the supplies and services to make it a great day and season at Leesville Lake.”


It’s a business strategy the Clows have utilized for nearly 50 years.


The Clow family started in the marina business when Ed spent an afternoon talking with former owner A.J. Harris. He obtained a loan to buy the marina, named it Clow’s Marina and eventually he and Sue left their full-time jobs as the business, and their lives became ever more busy. Paul, who has spent nearly his entire adult life associated with the marina, carried on the family’s legacy at the lake.


Paul and Linda plan to spend more time at their winter home in Florida and with their grandchildren.


“I will miss the good times talking to people and seeing them having fun,” Linda said. “That was the great part about being here, seeing a lot of smiling people having a good time at the lake.”


Paul said some of his best memories are hearing from people today who received silver dollar coins in the 1970s for every bass caught of heavier than five pounds as part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ “Fish for Dollars” campaign held at the lake. People still stop by and talk about the program, the fish they caught, and some even still have the silver dollar they received.


The Clows kept plenty of photos, scrapbooks and records on hand – many of them in their original handwritten form – and those items tell the stories of families and friends who considered Leesville Lake to be a paradise all its own.


“We’re retiring from the marina, but we’re not leaving the lake,” Paul Clow said. “We’ll be out there on the lake a lot more now, too.”


That should be a relief for anyone who’s ever visited Leesville Lake and Clow’s Marina and expects to see someone named “Clow” somewhere around the lake.


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