Sunday, August 24, 2008

Erie: Pennsylvania's Jewel for a Family Outing

We strolled along the bay inlet of Lake Erie waiting for Chris to arrive. We were four generations: my Mom, me, my daughter Suzie and daughter-in-law Lisa, and granddaughter Brianna.

“I see him,” yelled Brianna excitedly and took off running. Suzie and I decided to race this four-year-old. A very pregnant Lisa and my 82-year-old Mom moved slowly behind us. Brianna got swooped into her Uncle Chris’ hug. Suzie and I wrapped ourselves around him in a family bear hug. What a joyful moment to have this gathering of family for a day at Presque Isle, in Erie, Pennsylvania.

If you travel to Pennsylvania’s only seashore, you might be delightfully surprised. Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches 7 miles into Lake Erie. The 13 designated beaches were named one of the nation’s “Top 100 Swimming Holes” by Conde Nast’s Traveler Magazine. The Park is a National Natural Landmark, noted for providing habitat to the greatest number of state endangered, threatened, and rare species – more than in any other area of comparable size in Pennsylvania. Some 635 species of plants can be found on Presque Isle.

Chris has lived in the Erie region since going off to college over seven years ago. We let him plan our afternoon.

First, we visited the Perry Monument – the site where Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry camped before and after his successful campaign during War of 1812. I gathered the group together photo at the reflecting pool edge of th

e monument. Then, we followed Brianna. Her attention drew her to the pay-to-view mounted field glasses. Chris held Brianna eye level while Suzie inserted the quarter.

Balancing Brianna on his knee, Chris asked her, “What do you see?”

“Nothing, Uncle Chris,” was her reply.

“Huh?” Chris was stunned. Brianna should have a close-up view of the bay, sailboats, and docks on the opposite shore. He confirmed Brianna’s nothing in sight answer. The he confirmed that Suzie forgot the important step, turning the timer to activate the lenses.

“Opps!” She shrugged. And, Chris just shook his head at his little sister’s predictability.

Next stop, the beach. Mom found a shady spot at a picnic table where she sat guarding our less than valuable stuff – towels, flip flops, and bottled water. The rest of us headed to the water’s edge. Only Brianna wore a swimsuit because we adults planned to stay dry. We knew the water would be cold even in August.

Lake Erie is the second smallest of the Great Lakes and it is the shallowest with maximum depth of 240 feet and an average depth of 62 feet. Ice glaciers moved through the area over 14,000 years ago forming Lake Erie. Today, it felt like traces of the glacial waters still coursed through the water. We all got our feet wet then quickly retreated to the sand.

Construction of a sand castle began. Suzie showed Brianna how to drip wet sand to make towers around the center structure. Our castle had a moat so Chris carried buckets of water from lake to shore repeatedly. The waves lapped far enough away that our castle would be safe, at least until high tide later in the day.

When we had our fill of sun and sand, we drove to the lighthouse. The Presque Isle Lighthouse was completed in 1873 and is used today as a park official residence. Visitors cannot tour the inside lighthouse and signs ask that you not trespass in the well-maintained yard. We made a wide skirt around the property, enough to respect the residents’ privacy and still get a good look at this historic park relic.

We were drawn to the water again, this time just to walk along the sand, listen to the gulls, watch the waves, and simply enjoy being together. We had a beautiful day, my family and me.

August 7, 2008

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