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Welcome to island life, right here in Kentucky: Rent Colt Island at Craig’s Creek lake for special getaway

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

When you think ‘island,’ you don’t really think ‘Kentucky,’ but you should probably think again.

One data-base counts 106 islands in Kentucky and a travel site lists nine that are “must sees.”

Some are nature preserves, some are privately owned, some have river pirate histories, some are great for hunting and fishing, some just handy places to give your boat a rest for a while.

When Tom O’Donnell thinks ‘island,’ he thinks of Craig’s Creek, an idyllic lake tucked off the Ohio River near Warsaw, just above Markland Dam. You can see Belterra resort on the other side of the river from there. The resort offers a shuttle service from Smuggler’s Cove marina at Craig’s Creek.

The island that has captured O’Donnell’s fertile imagination is Colt Island, a 1.2-acre bit of paradise he and some of his buddies, locals Eric Moore, Spike Wright, and Joe Zubaty, purchased at auction in 2005.

Yes, it was on a whim but there was only one other bidder, so why not?

Doesn’t everyone dream of owning an island?

O’Donnell isn’t a local but he has become one sure enough. If there were a mayor of Craig’s Creek, he very well could be it. Or an ambassador.

He was in banking in Northern Kentucky for many years, engaged in the community and volunteering for everything, including as a trustee of Behringer-Crawford Museum. He and his wife Connie started poking around for an accessible place to hang out on the weekends, preferably on the water, and he found a simple spot that felt right on Craig’s Creek.

They bought it. Then they bought another one and another one and enticed friends and family down that way, not far at all from NKY. Expanded this and that until retirement looked exactly the way they wanted.

Life intervened. O’Donnell suffered a freak infection that left him paralyzed and wheel-chair bound. He and Connie, an artist, adapted. Added an elevator to their waterfront home, built a Tiki-bar on the deck at the boat ramp, and made the most of the good times.

Then the island.

Colt Island.

Tom O’Donnell’s business acumen and his fertile mind saw a resort. An island resort in Kentucky, on Craig’s Creek lake.

So he and his buddies got to work. They built a landside dock in 2006, a party deck on the island in 2011, expanded the island dock in 2012, purchased a houseboat in 2015 and a party barge in 2018.

Today, they are renting out the island to boating enthusiasts like themselves or folks just looking for a quiet weekend or a place for a party or reunion or a special vacation adventure.

Tom O’Donnell in his cabin on Craig’s Creek

They’ve had a busy season this year that will extend into the first weekend October – and they are already booking for next season — and planning more improvements.

After October 15, primitive camping is available on the island. And there are a few days still open before they call 2019 done.

Have you ever rented an island, O’Donnell asks.

You can have it all – the privacy of the island, the comfort of a houseboat (a “boatel”) with all the amenities of home permanently moored at the island, a party shelter on the island with electricity and running water and a grill – and campfire sites all around. Sleep under the stars if you like.

You get the use of a small pontoon to get you from the Colt Island landing and to get around on the lake (but not the river) itself. There’s plenty to see – from camps to luxury homes cropping up along the shorelines. Throw out your fishing line. Catch your own dinner.

The lake itself is beautiful but shallow and perfect for paddleboarding, ski-jets, kayaks – and fishing.

Rent the island and get it all – for a day, a week, a weekend of back-to-amazing-nature.

Parts of the Bahamas may not be ready for you next year, but Colt Island will be.

Plan a party, a reunion, a retreat or a getaway. Rentals include the whole island. Schedule ahead for next season. Call 859.992.1831. and check Colt Island’s Facebook page.

To start our tour of the lake and of Colt Island, we would meet Joe Zubaty and his pontoon landside. (Photos by Judy Clabes)

Our tour guide, Joe Zubaty, awaits.

Beautiful water on the way to Colt Island

Gas for your boat here. And supplies.

Approaching the island.

View from the island

Beautiful scenery wherever you look.

The partners built a nice dock and easy access to the island.

Looking back at the boatel from the covered shelter on the island.

Joe enjoys the scenery too — no matter how many times he has seen it.

Can you see yourself having your morning cup of coffee here?

Everything you need for a comfy weekend.

At the end of a perfect day. (Photo by Tom O’Donnell)

(Editor’s Note: Connie O’Donnell, 71, died in January of this year. The Inaugural Connie O’Donnell Student ART Invitational has been named for her and will offer talented local high school students the opportunity to showcase their work at Behringer-Crawford Museum’s freshART. The student art will be displayed at the museum as part of the silentART exhibit, though it is not available for sale. However, the works will be judged by a panel of art experts, with one winner receiving a $50 prize and $500 going to the art department at the winner’s school. The exhibit continues through the freshART gala and auction on September 14. She loved to mentor young artists, including their three sons, Tod, Sean and Patrick.  “She was very conscious of bringing new artists along and often paid class visits for specials days at school,” Tom O’Donnell said.)

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