Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Lake Erie Day Trip

Brenda and I went to Lake Erie Easter weekend, staying at Port Clinton, Ohio. We were looking for a quickie get-away - a one-nighter. We don't always go where there is Big Water but it tends to be our preference. We also usually end up in places out of season, not because we plan it that way, but because we don't... plan in advance, that is. For instance, we went to Eureka Springs, Arkansas in November, slightly after the close of their tourist season. We ended up in Port Clinton in April, somewhat before their season starts. There are advantages and disadvantages to this method of travel. One big advantage is that rates are cheaper. Our room in Port Clinton, overlooking Lake Erie, cost us $62. The same room, according to the sign posted on the door, rises to $169 after the start of the "official" season A second advantage is not having to fight hordes of other visitors. In Ohio, streets weren't busy and shops weren't crowded. Although, of course, this brings up the main disadvantage of being either early or late - places that aren't open. When you travel out of season, you are often met by gates barring the way to tourist attractions and signs on shop windows that say - "see you in May!".

We didn't care much. Lake Erie itself was open and the weather was perfect for sitting at a picnic table, watching the sun gleaming on the water. I know there are probably parts of Lake Erie that are crowded by factories and utility plants, befouled by industrial waste and sundry other pollutants, but all we could see from our Port Clinton perspective was clear, blue water, ruffled by white caps and dotted with islands.

We took a 15-minute ferry ride to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island for lunch. You can rent a golf cart for $50 a day to be able to traverse the island but we just took a taxi to town. The downtown part of Put-in-Bay is mostly populated by bars and restaurants and there, it seemed, were most of the rented golf carts, parked in front of the various eating/drinking establishments. We saw tee-shirts that advertised Put-in-Bay as a "drinking village with a fishing attitude", and it did seem that partying must be the big draw there. (Put-in-Bay bills itself as the "Key West of the North"). Almost all of the bars feature entertainment so when the season is booming, I expect hordes of people roam from place to place (there is a special party package that ferries people over from Cedar Point). I wonder if the local cops make lots of Operating While Intoxicated golf cart arrests?

We talked to the lady who owned the taxi service about island living. I've always thought that I would like to be the kind of self-sufficient person who would appreciate holing up in an area that is shut off from the rest of the world for a significant period but I don't really think I am- spending months on a 2 mile by 4 mile island strikes me as claustrophobic . Like so many people who live in tourist areas, South Bass Island people love the visitors and their money in the summer but they are also glad to see them go in the winter when the island lapses into a quiet, peaceful refuge. You have to have a lot of foresight to live on an island with a winter climate. Our taxi lady said islanders make sure to have their propane tank filled in the fall as well as stocking their freezer (although there is a grocery there) and putting by other necessities. She told us she confines herself to the island all winter, not bothering to come to the mainland until well into spring. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "what if you were stuck on an island during the winter and ran out of anything to read?"

Many of the Lake Erie people we talked to were concerned because the lake didn't freeze over this winter, for the first time that anyone could remember. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and from what the residents say, the stormiest. The ferry, which usually doesn't begin running until May, started in January this year. This is a very unwelcome development because people in this area love their ice season. For one thing, it draws many ice fishermen and for another they like the ice themselves for snowmobiling and other icy entertainments. They wondered if this was just an aberration or if global warming meant it would continue to happen.

This part of Lake Erie bills itself as the "walleye fishing capital of the world". Brenda said the place her family used to vacation in Wisconsin also bills itself as the "walleye capital of the world" but the car parked next to us at our hotel had Wisconsin plates so if Wisconsin people are coming to Ohio, does that mean they are bowing to Ohio's superiority in this regard?

We didn't eat any walleye when we were there but we did have fresh lake perch for lunch at Put-in-Bay and it was excellent although maybe not quite as good as what we had in Southhaven, Michigan.....not that I want to get involved in any competition between Great Lake states.

The official tree of the part of Ohio we were in seems to be the Fountain Cherry (there is a Weeping Cherry too but I think they are two different trees) and they prune it so that the blooming part is like an umbrella over the top of the tree....very eye-catching. Brenda fell in love with them so we went to a nursery but it turned out the tree was longer than my truck bed so she didn't buy it. We wondered though why these trees aren't more popular in other places. Surely, any tree that could survive Lake Erie winters would flourish anywhere.

We visited the lighthouse at Marblehead and Cheesehaven (150 Different Kinds of Cheeses!); we drove along the lakefront of Port Clinton, admiring the beautiful old homes set far back from the water's edge on large lawns. We bought pewter thimbles for our memorabilia shelves and jackets featuring the Erie Islands. And then we headed home talking about visiting all the Great Lakes as a traveling goal for the future. The only Great Lake we've seen much of is Lake Michigan. We've only barely caught a glimpse of Lake Superior, have never been to Lake Huron and have only touched Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls. Brenda is our travel agent and collector of information on places we mostly never make it to see. I have no doubt Great Lakes tourist brochures are flooding into her mailbox as we speak.