Last Sunday, as the US Women’s Soccer Team scored their amazing victory and Greece voted No to further austerity, I hopped on Interstate 90 East to Erie PA.
Presque Isle State Park is the most visited park in the US; more so than even Yosemite and Yellowstone. It is mobbed with traffic to say the least, and not just cars. Joggers, bikers, bird watchers, people just walking their dogs along the trails or lying on beaches, and parking lots filled with cars, Presque Isle swarms with humanity. While many are from the area, a park employee told me that there have been visitors from Europe, even China, coming up the Peninsula. Yet, the park is also a favorite resting spot for migratory birds.
I have driven up to this place more than once over the years; first with my parents as a child, now mainly on my own. There is definitely plenty to do, from renting a bicycle or kayak (the latter for $17 an hour) to hopping on the Lady Kate tour boat which offers a very nice sightseeing cruise onto Lake Erie. I went on it last year and was quite tempted to do it again.
One thing I discovered for free courtesy of the park service is a pontoon boat tour of the lagoons. Lasting about an hour, these guided tours get visitors up close to the natural wildlife that calls Presque Isle their home from blue herons to beavers residing in their lodges (we saw at least two on yesterday’s tour). It was also to see how popular the park’s boat rentals are because the waters around the boat had dozens of people paddling in their kayaks and canoes waving at us; including a man who spotted someone he knew sitting right across from me. One thing the lady at the information booth for the tour said that i didn’t know was that, in the 1930s, that the Army Corps of Engineers made channels connecting what were in fact separate ponds creating the nice kayak route enjoyed today.
On the way back, if you still have the energy, at the entrance to the park, is Waldameer Waterworld. Driving past the place, one can see why the park is a local favorite. Founded in 1896, it is more than just a bunch of water slides. As a matter of fact, Waldameer is an old style amusement park with various attractions, including kiddie rides, a carousel and a wooden roller coaster called the Raven Flyer II. It straddles both sides the road into Presque Isle and, according to its’ website, is ranked the sixth best wooden coaster in the world. Finally, parking and admission are free, a rarity these days. Directly across from it, and with the back of the roller coaster practically behind it, is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle. The facility focuses on educating visitors on the unique ecology of the State Park and, once again, parking is free.
Presque Isle State park is roughly two hours away from Cleveland, Ohio, Despite construction barrels in spots on the highway, driving up I-90 can be a very nice weekend road trip getting there. Anyway, it is a great place to spend a day on the shores of a Great Lake.
Photographs by James Valentino