You have to believe that the ultimate Architect of the outdoors knew just what he was doing when he sculpted the Lake Erie islands. It was much more than a creative use of the power of glaciers to carve out a little piece of paradise and place it temptingly close to the Ohio mainland.
The Erie islands are clustered in the extreme western end of the lake, and the most accessible chunks of land that dot this shallowest of the Great Lakes are about an hour's drive and a short ferry ride from everyone in northwest Ohio.
With gas prices passing the ridiculous point and reaching silly on the meter, location becomes even more crucial when we make our recreation and vacation choices.
The Erie islands essentially allow us to cut the travel expense to a minimum, and find a different world right in our own backyard.
Native Americans were here hundreds of years ago, followed by European explorers. They found much of what still lures visitors to the islands - a picturesque and peaceful place, surrounded by water, which gives it its own milder micro climate.
The most populous of the islands, South Bass Island, is just three miles from the tip of the Catawba peninsula, an easy 18-minute ferry ride on most days. Besides being geographically blessed with its close proximity to the mainland and within a four-hour drive of many major Midwest cities, the island also boasts the best natural harbor on the Great Lakes.
That Put-In-Bay harbor has offered sanctuary and refuge to sailors and fishermen for hundreds of years, and it remains an extremely popular stopover for pleasure boats. The island's busy downtown corridor of shops, bars and restaurants is located adjacent to the harbor and the combination of an ideal location, easy access and a universally festive atmosphere have made Put-In-Bay the Key West of the Great Lakes.
While it proudly remains the bar and party place of the lake, many of the islands' real treasures lie outside that bustling few blocks downtown. Many people who enjoyed the robust night life in their early 20s have returned to rediscover Put-In-Bay and the rest of the island.
Some of the best small mouth bass fishing in the world is found off-shore from South Bass and the other Erie islands. Ohio's most gorgeous state park campsites are located on a rocky bluff right above the lake's edge on the western end of the island, if you are one of those people still not opposed to pitching a tent and sleeping on the ground.
There are art galleries, wineries, caves, an Ohio State fisheries research lab and the iconic Perry's Peace Memorial all on the island, where at just 3.7 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, everything is easily within reach.
A lot of outdoors enthusiasts from around the country have never heard of the Lake Erie islands. They hear Ohio and they think of flat farmland, not rocky cliffs, soothing breezes and incredible Great Lakes vistas.
Those of us who have traveled to a lot of places on the globe for outdoors adventure know otherwise. The waters around the Erie islands offer fantastic fishing, while the islands themselves provide a temptingly close and affordable escape from the stress and fast-paced rat race we are surrounded by on the mainland.
Before they let the tough economic times get them down and then raise the white flag on taking great vacations, people in this neck of the woods need to fold the map a couple of times and check out what treasures they can find just off the shore on Lake Erie.
Those islands are part of Ohio and they belong to all of us. And they are the best of what puts the "great" in our Great Lakes.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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