Islanders Relish an Autumn Change of Pace
At summer's end, the Lake Erie Islands offer a peaceful waterfront escape.
I think of it as ‘soft September,’” says Julene Market, a lifelong resident of Put-in-Bay. “Everything is still open, and you still have premium weather, but the edge of the summer season is gone.” Market, whose family owns and operates the Miller Ferry, has passed many seasons on the island, yet still lets out a contented sigh when she describes how summer slips into fall on Put-in-Bay.
After Labor Day, says Market, the island simply slows down. Dockside bars that were filled with weekend revelers now hold quiet conversations between locals. Area inns lower their rates. The island’s two wineries switch gears to the business and busy-ness of harvest season. “In the fall, you go bicycling in this area and it’s just filled with the fabulous, heady smell of the grapes,” Market says. “I look forward to that every year.”
And the hub of activity — normally found in the marinas and downtown areas — now lies in the islands’ natural areas, where seasonal phenomenons such as bird migration and fall foliage are in full swing.
“September is nature month on Kelleys,” says Pat Hayes, who counts president and founder of the Kelleys Island Audubon Club among his many titles. “We’ve got the Glacial Glimpses, the Butterfly Fest, the Feathers and Foliage Festival,” he says, ticking off just a few of the nature-based events planned for this month.
Although his official vocation is running the Inn on Kelleys Island, a bed and breakfast he owns with his wife Lori, the self-taught naturalist has become one of the island’s strongest supporters for protecting and educating visitors about its natural resources.
“When I look out on the island, I don’t just see a bunch of trees,” says Hayes. “I see chinkapin oak, hackberry, the hard shoreline and all the reefs that are now islands.” For that reason, he also offers guided tours of Kelleys’ ecological attractions for $15 per person. “That’s technically for two hours, but you know how it is,” he shrugs. “When people are excited (about nature) so am I.”
Tours take visitors to better-known attractions such as the Glacial Grooves and the North Pond Boardwalk Trail, as well as its rare habitats like the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve and some of the lesser-known spots that he’s discovered in his 30-plus years on the island. Every stop is filled with anecdotes.
“The glacier was dug out in 1972,” he says, explaining that only 60 of the now 400-plus feet of grooves had been exposed before a team of Bowling Green State University scientists and locals uncovered the rest. “The ‘kids’ who did it are my age now,” he says. “They said when they first dug it out, the grooves were as smooth as a new tombstone. But as you can see, they’ve deteriorated,” he says, pointing at the cracked, rough surfaces etched into the rock formation.
Although Hayes has kayak rentals available for the inn’s guests, all of his tours are on land. For a water-based adventure on Kelleys, turn to Captain Chris Bradford, owner of Island Breeze Cruises (kelleysislandbreezecruises.com). Book a sunset cruise, and enjoy views of natural and man-made sights around the island’s 18 miles of shoreline. There’s also the opportunity for wildlife viewing. “We see osprey, eagles and, every year, I see at least one loon,” says Bradford. Sunset cruises are by reservation only, and the ship needs a group of at least six to set sail, but individuals and couples can call ahead and Bradford will do his best to work you into a group.
Over on South Bass Island, water-based ecological adventure is easier to come by, thanks to Kayak the Bay (kayakthebay.com) owner Vicki Wigle. Wigle offers two-hour self-guided trips for $20, which give paddlers enough time to investigate the limestone cliffs and other natural features of nearby Gibraltar, Middle Bass and Ballast islands.
Although Wigle offers two guided tours during the week, nature novices and hardcore enthusiasts should call ahead to reserve a trip with nature guru Lisa Brohl. An island resident “on and off” since 1979 with a masters in environmental science, Brohl’s guided tours deliver an abundant mix of local and natural history. During your paddle, you’re likely to get a serious lesson and up-close look at rare plants, nesting birds and even the island’s collection of reptiles.
“On a tour, we might see a Lake Erie water snake,” says Brohl, adding that the snakes, known for creeping out visitors by swimming with their heads above water, are found only in this area, and are almost off the endangered species list thanks to diligent conservation efforts that brought back the population.
“I’ll also point out harebells, which are unique to a dolomite limestone cliff habitat,” she says. The islands are one of just a few special places in Ohio to see this rare plant species.
In September, Brohl says she’s on the lookout for migrating Monarch butterflies, warblers and several species of migrating dragonflies, including green darner and saddlebag.
“You won’t see the dragonflies in huge numbers, but on the southern tip or north end, we’ve seen up to a dozen at a time.”
Autumn is also a great time to catch perch while relaxing on a kayak.
Amid Brohl’s discussions of rare, endangered and exotic communities, there’s one well-known natural wonder she always points out.
“I don’t know where else you can see the sunsets we have,” she says. “They’re truly spectacular.”
UPCOMING EVENTS ON THE ISLANDS
Discover one of Ohio’s greatest geological marvels — the glacial grooves — and walk the North Shore Loop to explore the natural areas of Kelleys Island. 419/746-2360, kelleysislandchamber.com
Learn about the exotic butterfly species that migrate to the island, plus enjoy a butterfly tagging demonstration (nature permitting), bake sale, quilt raffle and more. Old Stone Church, 224 Division St., Kelleys Island 43438, 419/746-2376, kelleysislandnature.com
Stone Lab Open House
The Stone Lab is the oldest freshwater biological field station in the United States. This free event includes tours of the South Bass Island Lighthouse, Stone Lab and the Aquatic Resource Center, as well as lectures and laboratory sessions on Gibraltar. Transportation from South Bass Island to Stone Lab is provided. Stone Lab, Gibraltar Island, 419/285-1800, stonelab.osu.edu
War of 1812 Historic Weekend
Experience history through a War of 1812 military encampment, historic demonstrations and children’s activities, plus a performance by the Toledo Symphony. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, Put-in-Bay, 419/285-2184, nps.gov/pevi
Learn about the island’s long tradition of wine making and taste the latest vintage from the local winery. Free wine tasting for adults and free grape juice for kids plus food, games and live entertainment. The Kelleys Island Wine Company, 418 Woodford Rd., Kelleys Island 43438, 419/746-2678, kelleysislandwine.com
Feathers and Foliage Bird Festival
Celebrate the island’s natural treasures with guided bird walks and a tree identification hike through Kelleys Island State Park, then follow the signs to Long Point to see birds up close at the banding station. Various locations, Kelleys Island, 419/746-2258, kelleysislandnature.com
Put-in-Bay Island Wine Festival
Sample from more than 200 wines and learn about the history of island wineries, then place your bids at the silent charity auction. Toledo Ave., Put-in-Bay, 419/285-2832, visitputinbay.com
Explore the Shores
For more information about Kelleys Island, Put-in-Bay and the surrounding areas, visit shoresandislands.com.
Where to stay:
Nature lovers and bed and breakfast veterans will feel at home at the Inn on Kelleys Island, where hosts Pat and Lori Hayes (Lori is a descendent of the island’s founding fathers) have stocked the library with everything from birding tomes to Jimmy Buffet’s travelogue. 419/746-2258, kelleysisland.com/theinn
If privacy and a pool are your style, book a room (or suite) at Kelleys Island Venture Resort. Just two years old, the property offers wireless Internet, complimentary bicycles and lakefront views. 419/746-2900, kiventureresort.com
Where to eat:
Find a killer breakfast, lunch or dinner and handcrafted brews (you can get them to go by the growler, too) at Kelleys Island Brewery. Outdoor dining, live music and cornhole add to the fun. 419/746-2314, kelleysislandbrewpub.com
Watch the sunset as you down one of the locals’ favorite cheeseburgers at Docker’s. Open-air dockside seating and seafood options make this a legit island experience. 419/746-2100
Cathy’s Wire Art Jewelry. Cathy Coffman has spent her life combing for bits of beach glass (she has the photos to prove it). Browse her collection of jewelry and artwork from this colorful local medium. She does custom work, too. 419/746-2751
Check out the new building of exhibits at the Kelleys Island Historical Association Museum, which is open daily through the end of September. 419.746.2399, kelleysislandhistorical.org
SOUTH BASS ISLAND/PUT-IN-BAY
Where to stay:
Check out the BayShore Resort’s Waterfront Getaway weekday package (Sept. 6–Oct. 7, Sun.–Thur.). Just $149 includes a lakefront room, a $50 dining voucher, a round-trip ride to the island aboard the Miller Ferry and other discounts for two. 866/4BAYSHORE, bayshoreresortpib.com
English Pines Bed and Breakfast delivers charm and island history in the mid-1800s home of original settlers. 419/285-2521, englishpines.com
Where to eat:
For great food off the beaten path, locals point you to The Skyway. 419/285-4331, putinbayskyway.com
Fans of comfort food head to the Goat Soup and Whiskey Tavern for their daily soup and perch tacos. 419/285-GOAT, thegoattavern.com
Island regulars recommend Axel and Harry’s for its waterfront dining and relaxed setting. 419/285-2572, axelandharrys.com
Visit the Cargo Net for an impressive collection of tasteful marine décor and nautical antiques. 419/285-4231, thecargonet.com
See 500 types of exotic butterflies at The Butterfly House. 419/285-CAVE, perryscave.com
Miller Boat Line
Car and passenger ferry service to Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island from Catawba. 800/500-2421, millerferry.com
This passenger ferry departs from Port Clinton, Sandusky and Lorain to South Bass Island/Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island. 800/245-1JET, jet-express.com
Kelleys Island Ferry
Car and passenger service from Marblehead to Kelleys Island. 419/798-9763, kelleysislandferry.com