Many lake area visitors don't realize a 17,441 acre playground lies just to the south of Osage Beach. Lake of the Ozarks State Park is Missouri's largest and can provide a pleasant diversion while vacationing in the Lake area. The park has 85 miles of shoreline and two public beaches, plus boat launching areas. Lee C. Fine Memorial Airport has a 6,500 by 100-ft. runway, plus terminal building, parallel taxiway, fuel and tiedown service. Hiking trails, horseback riding stable and four organized youth camps are offered.
The Lake Ozarks was created by the construction of the 2,543-foot (775 m) long (775 m) Bagnell Dam by Union Electric Company of St. Louis, Missouri. The principal engineering firm was Stone and Webster. Construction began August 6, 1929, and was completed in April 1931. The dam is operated and maintained by AmerenUE, the successor of Union Electric, under the authority of a permit issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
During construction the lake was referred to as Osage Reservoir or Lake Osage. The Missouri General Assembly officially named it Lake Benton after the former Senator Thomas Hart Benton. None of the names took as it was popularly referred to by its location in the Ozarks. The electric generating station, however, is still referred to by the utility company as the Osage Hydroelectric Plant.
At the time of construction Lake Ozarks was one of the largest man-made lakes in the world and the largest in the United States.
Though built to provide hydroelectric power for customers of Union Electric, the lake quickly became a significant tourist destination for the Midwest. There are over 70,000 homes existing along the lake, many of which are vacation homes. Spectacular scenery characteristic of the Lake Ozarks has also helped to transform the lake into a major resort area. More than 3 million people visit the lake annually.
The Lake Ozarks is unique in the fact that it is the largest man-made, non-flood control lake in the United States. The lake rarely varies in surface elevation by more than 5 feet (2 m), with normal pool elevation of 660.0 feet (201.2 m) above mean sea level. Unlike many flood-control lakes constructed by the Corps of Engineers, most of the shoreline on the Lake of the Ozarks is privately owned, and the relatively stable surface elevation has created ideal conditions for private development within a few feet of the shoreline. The lake is promoted as the "Midwest Coast".