According to Erie Indian legend, Presque Isle was formed when the Great Spirit Manitou stretched his left arm into the sea to protect them from a terrible storm set off by angry lake spirits when the Erie ventured out to discover where the sun set. Where the arm of the Great Spirit blocked the thrashing waves, the vast sand bar of Presque Isle formed, providing protection and safe harbor to the Erie.
Commonly referred to as “the Peninsula” by Erie locals, Presque Isle is a sand spit curving out into Lake Erie. Since my daughter moved to this area, I have spent many happy days sunning and swimming from its sandy shores in the summer, hiking and biking its trails in the fall, and bravely venturing out onto the frozen lake in the winter. Here is a guide to the educational and recreational opportunities that abound at Presque Isle.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC): Located on a bluff overlooking the Park at the entrance to Presque Isle, TREC is a research and conservation center. It features interactive historical and nature exhibits and special activities throughout the year, such as scavenger hunts, family night at the movies and concerts. Local artwork and souvenirs can be found at the Nature Shop, and the Sunset Café offers meals and box lunches. Visit their website here or call 814-833-7424 for more information. General admission is free.
Boat Tours: Knowledgeable guides narrate boat tours around the island and on the interior lagoons. The “Lady Kate” provides a 90-minute tour around the peninsula, with views of the beaches, the Erie waterfront and skyline, three historic lighthouses, and the Gull Point Nature Preserve. Visit this site for details. Interpretative pontoon boat tours through the interior bays provide wildlife and scenic views and history lessons. Visit this site for details. Canoes, kayaks, small motorboats and pontoon boats can be rented at Presque Isle Canoe and Boat Livery. Call 814-838-3938 for details.
Lighthouses: Don’t miss visiting the two lighthouses on Presque Isle, the Presque Isle Lighthouse and the North Pierhead Lighthouse.
Hiking and Biking: Eleven miles of hiking trails and a 13.5 mile paved bike trail run through Presque Isle. Bicycles, four wheeled surreys, tricycles and roller blades can be rented at Yellow Bike Rentals, at the Waterworks Pumphouse area. (They also rent out paddle boats.) Call 814-835-8900 for details.
Picnicking: Picnic facilities with tables, grills and charcoal disposals are available throughout the park, as well as play areas. Picnic pavilions accommodating from 30-200 people can be rented. Unreserved pavilions are available free, on a first-come, first-served basis. Four enclosed picnic shelters are located in the Waterworks Area, and include electricity, water, tables and a fireplace. Call 888-PA-PARKS to reserve a pavilion or shelter.
Wildlife Watching: Wildlife watching is a year-round adventure, Presque Isle’s ecological diversity hosting many different species of flora and fauna. Presque Isle is home to a great number of the state’s endangered and rare species and a prime bird migration spot. Six distinct ecological zones host a different animal and plant community. Visit this site for more information.
Fishing: Popular fishing areas on Presque Isle include the North, East and West Piers, the Waterworks and Ferry Dock ponds, Perry Monument, and all lagoons and boat landings. Bowfishing is permitted.
Winter Activities: Enjoy ice fishing, ice-boating, ice skating, and cross-country skiing, and discover the ice dunes, formed by the combination of wave surge, lake ice and freezing spray. Cross-country skis and snowshoes can be rented near the Waterworks Ponds.
Public Programs: Hikes and environmental programs are offered throughout the year on history, art, wildlife and plants. Explore the Calendar of Events here.
Delight in Pennsylvania’s only “seashore” and its many recreational opportunities, learn about its ecological diversity, or immerse yourself in the history of Presque Isle State Park. (Visit this site for a photo tour of Presque Isle.) For more information, contact Presque Isle State Park, 814-833-7424, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: Personal experience; Presque Isle State Park Official DCNR Site; Innvista.com; GoErie.com