Lake Erie

Feathers from some birds, such as the great egret, were in such demand by the millinery trade that they were worth twice their weight in gold.

A feather in your cap?

Sometimes, it’s good to remember just how far we’ve come in wildlife conservation.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, bird feathers were the fashion fad in the millinery — hatmaking — trade. Some feathers, especially plumes from great egrets and snowy egrets, were in such demand that they were literally worth twice their weight in gold. During the 1890s alone, it’s estimated that 5 million birds were killed annually for their feathers. To make matters worse, those birds were taken almost exclusively during the breeding season, their eggs left to rot or their hatchlings to starve and die.

Tall ships festivals are scheduled at two Lake Erie ports this summer: Cleveland in July and Erie, Pennsylvania, in August.

Tall ships

On Sept. 10, 1813, a few miles northwest of the Bass Islands on Lake Erie, a David-versus-Goliath confrontation pitted the fledgling United States Navy against a fleet of mighty British warships during the War of 1812.

Shortly after the cannon smoke cleared, Perry scrawled what has since become a famous note on the back of an envelope to send to his commanding officer, Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison (who would, of course, go on to become the ninth president of the United States):  

Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours.

The 'Lake Lady'

Gone fishing

If you’re an angler, at least once during your lifetime you must experience the unique, majestic beauty of a Lake Erie sunrise.

“I enjoy teaching people, male or female, young or old, the sport of walleye and yellow perch fishing on Lake Erie’s Western Basin,” she says. “I probably average about 100 guiding trips per year, from the islands east to Huron, depending on where the fish are biting.”

Cedar Point Beach

Lake Erie beach bucket list

Show of hands: After months of COVID confinement, who wants to lie on a beach towel beside a long stretch of sun-kissed water? Build sandcastles? Paddle around? Go for a long swim? Simply laze away a summer afternoon?

Cedar Point Beach, Sandusky

Cedar Point began with its beach in 1870, and today, the amusement park delivers dual fun-in-the-sun experiences: world-class rides plus a mile of smooth, white sand — all enhanced by splendid lake views and refreshing breezes. Open only to Cedar Point guests, the beach offers amenities and activities that range from lounging in an umbrella chair and snapping photos on its grand boardwalk to renting WaveRunners and parasailing high above the sand.  

Kelleys Island students

Winter's tale

Kelleys Island is both the largest American island on Lake Erie and also the town that covers the island’s entire 4.4 square miles of land. During summer, it’s one of Ohio’s most popular travel destinations, drawing upward of 250,000 visitors during the tourist season.

There is no bridge to Kelleys Island from the mainland, 5 miles away. Air service is available year-round — but only weather permitting. Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line schedules service into late fall and resumes service in the spring, but some years, the lake ice can linger, and spring fog can cause flights and ferries to be canceled. It’s never a sure bet whether you can get on or off the island in a pinch. 

In the early 1900s, it was common for more than 1,000 residents to brave the conditions and stay the winter, but today that number is more like 100 to 150.

Brycen Burkhart with fish

The big one

If you’re an angler, how would you like to catch one walleye worth over $100,000? James Atkinson Jr. of Streetsboro did exactly that last fall, his whopper walleye weighing 12.395 pounds and measuring 31.5 inches.

The Fall Brawl is coordinated by Frank Murphy of North Royalton, who volunteers his time — lots of it. A fisherman all his life, Murphy says, “I just want to give something back to the fishing community for what fishing has done for me through the years. That’s why there is 100% payback of all the entry fees to the top five derby winners.”
Nearly 8,000 anglers participated last year, and Murphy anticipates as many as 10,000 will this year, each plunking down $30 for the privilege. Do the math, and that’s $300,000 in prize money that gets split five ways.

Man with large lake sturgeon

Monster rebirth

Is there really a Lake Erie monster, as some claim? Well, yes, at least potentially. In fact, thousands of small ones are swimming in the big lake right now. Let me explain.

By mid-century, however, market conditions were rapidly changing, and from 1850 to 1870, products derived from sturgeon transformed this once-worthless fish into a valuable commodity. Caviar, fish oil, and a substance known as isinglass — a gelatin used in adhesives made from the air bladder of various fish, especially sturgeon — became extremely valuable. The fish became so sought after, in fact, that one of the largest sturgeon fisheries in America developed on Lake Erie. In 1885 alone, commercial fishermen on Erie netted more than half a million pounds of lake sturgeon.  

People viewing Lake Erie from Stone Lab

Stone Lab: Lake Erie’s little giant

Gibraltar Island is just 6.5 acres, yet sports a castle, a fleet of boats, and a small-but-mighty lab. Though tiny, it has a huge footprint in Lake Erie conservation — and in the hearts of thousands of yearly visitors.

“I first attended as a high school student with my ichthyology class on a field trip in the 1970s,” says John Hageman. “After college, a job opened up, and they were willing to hire me up at the lake.” Hageman eventually spent 25 years there as lab manager.

It's simple?

We’ve all heard some form of the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set in motion a chain of events that causes a hurricane in China. It’s a way to express how complex systems like our weather or the environment are tied together by complex relationships that are difficult to recognize or understand.

The sun sets behind an island on Lake Erie

Lake Erie island campgrounds

Whether you enjoy tent camping or drive the largest motorhome on the road, there’s a campsite awaiting you on the Ohio islands of Lake Erie. Accessible by ferry, South Bass, Middle Bass, and Kelleys Island state parks offer a unique camping experience close to home.

No one knows the Lake Erie islands better than Steve Riddle. Raised on Middle Bass, Riddle spent a 30-year career managing the three island parks for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Today, he is the police chief of Put-In-Bay, the small village on South Bass Island.