June 2005 Issue
Spend the day sunning, swimming or snoozing at one of our state's spectacular lakes.
You don't have to head south to find pristine sand, crystalline water and impressive sunrises and sunsets. Ohio's beaches offer all that and more. Here are four, each distinctly different, each a favorite "hot spot" for those who know them best.
Lake Hope State Park
Eighty days to Lake Hope. For Nancy Lockard, her husband Steve, and their four children, the countdown began with an e-mail on May 1 and continues until mid-July, when the Lockards will make the 90-mile trip from their home in Powell to Lake Hope State Park in McArthur. There they will greet the contingent of five families from Rocky River, North Olmsted, Cleveland, Kent and Newark whom they haven't seen since last summer. They'll spend a week basking in the sun, bird-watching, and catching up on the personal ebbs and flows of life. It's a tradition they have been celebrating for the past 17 years.
"We met years ago when our kids were small, and we'd all wind up here the same week," Lockard, 50, says. "We became fast friends. Now, we synchronize our calendars. It's been a treat to watch the children grow up from toddlers to oh-my-gosh, now they're looking at each other. I think there were quite a few first kisses [there].
"We adults have shared a variety of life changes, from parents' deaths to illnesses and job changes. But when we're here together, it's like we've created this little Utopia. Most of us probably could opt out to go someplace else, like Jamaica. But this is where we go."
Lake Hope's expansive 600-foot-long beach and 120-acre lake, located in the heart of the 26,824-acre Zaleski State Forest in southeast Ohio, is a nature-lover's paradise of oak and hickory and blankets of bloodroot and blue-eyed Mary. Since no gas-powered boats are allowed on the lake, it's also a generous slice of serenity to those wanting only to vegetate with a good book. The swimming is easy, since the deepest part reserved for swimmers slopes gradually to five-and-a-half feet.
The sound of silence that prevails is interrupted only by the mournful cries of red-tailed hawks and loons and the caw of crows. Like so many families who are regulars at Lake Hope, the Lockards enjoy renting a canoe and taking it out in the still of the night, keeping an eye and ear out for the American beaver and nocturnal creatures.
"It sounds crazy, but we can't wait to see the beavers and bats come out," Lockard says. "We take our video camera and film their antics. While we're out there, we also bond as a family. It's those memories that make for lively discussions during long Ohio winters."
Anglers will be flush with success from a catch of the day that might be largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, saugeye and catfish. Take a hike along the 17 miles of trail traversing the park around the lake. (Don't forget your camera, since the opportunities to focus on white-tailed deer and water lilies are available at just about every turn.)
A trip to the beach wouldn't be complete without food. Pack your own repast, or head on over to the concession stand in the Lake Hope Boathouse, which serves hamburgers, hotdogs, ice cream and the requisite chips, pretzels and ice-cold soft drinks. The Stone Terrace Restaurant offers meals during seasonal hours. Signature dishes include an all-you-can-eat Friday night fish fry and prime rib on Saturdays.
History buffs will want to stop at the park's nature center, which recounts the area's rich past (it was once a source of iron ore) and is home to the camouflage-colored timber rattlesnake - known for its venomous bite - which is on the endangered-species list.
Want to extend your stay by more than a day? Take a tip from Lockard and rent a fully furnished cottage equipped with linens, towels, heat and air conditioning, outdoor grills and microwaves. (Groups of 22 or more may rent Laurel Lodge, with its massive stone fireplace and all the comforts of home.) The park's 192-site campground, tailor-made for tents or trailers, includes heated shower houses and laundry facilities.
Lake Hope State Park, 27331 St. Rte. 278, McArthur, 740/596-5253. http://www.ohiodnr.com/parks/parks/lakehope.htm. Boat rentals range from $10 per hour to $40 daily. Accommodations range from $63 to $75 per night for a cottage to $17 for a nonelectric campsite. Laurel Lodge rents for $305 a night.
Alum Creek State Park
The secrets to building a sandcastle that's an architectural marvel, says Lisa Knapp, are first, to build it close to the water for easy access to both key ingredients; second, bring pails and other containers of various sizes and shapes, the better to make the types of towers and turrets the Knights of the Roundtable would be proud to call their own; and third, be prepared to let other beachgoers lend a hand.
For the Knapp family - Lisa, her husband David and their three sons - there's no better way to spend a summer day than doing construction work on the beach at Alum Creek State Park in Delaware.
"It may seem like a small thing, but we never get bored doing it," Knapp says with a smile.
The Knapps have lived in Orange Township since 1998. But they didn't realize what lay just five miles away until friends raved about it. They've been regulars for four years.
Alum Creek's 3,000-foot-long beach - the largest inland beach in the state-park system - is flanked by the best of both natural worlds: a 3,387-acre reservoir with an average summer water temperature of 75 degrees, and more than 4,000 acres of beech-maple forests dotted with large-flowered trillium and wild geranium. The lake's expansive southern side is a boater's paradise, offering unlimited horsepower and plenty of room for water skiers. To the north, quiet coves make perfect spots for fishermen - no surprise since Alum Creek is rated the second-best saugeye lake and sixth-best crappie lake in the state. Shale cliffs and sheltered inlets make it an ideal place for canoeists to practice their craft.
Campers can pitch their tents in one of the 289 sites overlooking the lake, three of which offer electrical hookups for water, and modern restrooms with heated showers. Three RVs, five camper cabins and one cedar cabin, equipped with kitchens and bathrooms, are also available for rent.
Take a tip from Knapp and stick around to see the sunset through the trees, which she calls "an inspiring way to end the day."
Alum Creek State Park, 3615 S. Old State Rd., Delaware, 740/548-4631. http://www.ohiodnr.com/parks/parks/alum.htm. Boat rentals range from $10 to $145, depending on the craft and length of rental. Accommodations range from $27 per night for a campsite to $70 per night for the cedar cabin.
East Harbor State Park
While most of us start our days wearily resigned to a congested morning commute, Cindi Wagner greets the day in tranquility.
Already at work since 5 a.m. at the East Harbor State Park Marina on Lake Erie, which she manages, Wagner makes sure she slips out the back door each morning to watch the sky colorfully come to life.
"The pastel pinks and blues really relax you," says Wagner, 46.
Wagner discovered East Harbor 27 years ago, when, as a bride, she moved to Lakeside from Malinta in Henry County with her husband Gary. "I find it calming to sit and look at the horizon," Wagner says. "There are birds everywhere. And if you have french fries, you'll find a seagull sitting next to you in a heartbeat."
Situated on a peninsula of land stretching into Lake Erie, East Harbor's 2.5-mile-long beach provides panoramic views of Put-in-Bay, the Bass islands and Kelleys Island.
The park's family-friendly swimming beach has crystal-clear waters that are ?4-feet deep in spots.
Indulge the senses by strolling the 2.5-mile-long stretch of shoreline that winds between the East Harbor and West Harbor jetties. The crash of waves, coupled with the whistling sound of mute swans' wings as they fly overhead mirrors the ambiance of the Atlantic coast. It's here that Wagner often spots zebra mussel shells to add to her burgeoning collection, now filling half a dozen vases at home.
The fishing's plentiful, too. Gary makes two dozen expeditions a season for yellow perch, channel catfish, smallmouth and white bass and walleye. Hiking East Harbor's 13-mile trail system - seven miles of it located around the beach - to look for egrets, eagles and seasonal migrating warblers is another favorite activity for the couple and their 19-year-old son, Joe.
Campers are drawn to East Harbor, which boasts 570 sites, making it the largest campground in the state's park system. The Fourth of July weekend is a favorite time for fireworks fans because, Wagner enthuses, you're surrounded by them for miles and miles, from the islands to Sandusky's Cedar Point amusement park/resort.
"There are wall-to-wall cars here and a sense of community as everyone shares the same experience," Wagner says. "It always reminds me why I'm totally in love with the place. I can't imagine living anywhere else."
East Harbor State Park, 1169 N. Buck Rd., Lakeside-Marblehead, 419/734-4424. http://www.ohiodnr.com/parks/parks/eastharbor.htm. Accommodations range from $19 to $32 for campsites to $450 per week for an RV.
Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park
As the sun peaks over the horizon, the morning stillness is broken by the slap-swish of the paddle propelling Donna Clark forward toward a new day. It's 7 a.m., and Clark is alone at Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park along Lake Erie in Lake County. She relishes these moments, when life's stresses float away on Lake Erie and the nearby Grand River, which she navigates in her kayak. That's undoubtedly the reason her favorite kayak is named Andante, meaning "slow and easy with feeling."
"This is the time when the beach and lake are mine," she says.
But this penchant for seclusion doesn't mean the 43-year-old Kirtland resident doesn't play well with others. She says one of Fairport Harbor's main attributes is the fact that it attracts sports enthusiasts from around the state who like to kayak, sail, Jet Ski or play volleyball, making the weekends seem like a scene from "Beach Blanket Bingo."
"I ask if anyone wants to go sailing and 10 hands shoot up," Clark says. "There's this great sense of community when you find people who share the same interests you do."
In addition to countless opportunities to indulge in a strenuous sporting life, Fairport Harbor's 800-yard-long beach offers quiet places to spot eagles, herons and gulls.
Like Clark, many collectors come to comb the sand for beach glass. "You'll always find something that's worth the hunt," she says.
Where's her favorite spot for looking? "That's my secret," she says with a smile.
Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park, 301 Huntington Beach Dr., Fairport Harbor, 440/639-9972. www.lakemetroparks.com/HTML/NatureParks/fairport.html. Boat rentals range from $10 per hour for a single kayak to $16 per hour ?for doubles.