The Peripatetic Gardener Discovers Lake Erie Bluffs Park

by Elsa Johnson

Thirty years ago, back in the day when I was studying landscape architecture at the Ohio State University, I had the good luck to be hired one summer as an intern for ODNR, tasked with driving the Lake Erie shoreline from the Pennsylvania border to downtown Cleveland, looking for access to the lake. What a great job for someone who likes to wander off the purposeful route just to see what’s there! For pay I got to drive down every north facing paved and unpaved byway leading toward the lake….and what I found was that while access to the lake was very limited, there were several areas where sizable swaths of undeveloped land remained. I could imagine all kinds of things to do with them, but mostly I imagined parks.   

So it was with (unchanged) curiosity that I set out with my husband recently to explore the brand new lookout tower in Lake County’s 600 acre Lake Erie Bluffs park, which, itself, is quite new.


Lake Erie Bluffs park is located a little east of Fairport Harbor, and a little west of the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, and offers the visitor access to almost two miles of undeveloped Lake Erie shoreline. It was a misty moisty morning – one of those days when all edges seem blurred and softened, as if the thinnest, finest pale veil had been thrown over everything. Soft weather.


We parked at the Lane Road entrance, took a look at the trail map, and headed east along a nicely level crushed stone path in search of the tower.


At 50 feet high, this tower is 70 feet shorter than the Emergent Tower at Holden Arboretum, but because it is set on a bluff that is itself about 50 feet above lake level, the end viewing effect is much the same – one looks out over the tops of (here) mostly young growth trees, and, to the north, to the platinum colored lake with it’s waves unendingly washing ashore.


We hoped to spot a bald eagle’s nest from the tower but did not, although we did see eagles, and, of course, gulls (and a titmouse and a chickadee). In the spring and fall the southern shore of Lake Erie provides an important stopover for migratory birds, but alas, we did not see any. I found myself wondering how close we were to the nuclear power plant, but looking east, I could see nothing but a grey fog veil.

On the return trip we chose to walk the beach trail, right along the water’s edge, which was marked ‘easy’. While everything in this park is pretty level – there are no serious or dangerous challenges – the beach trail is not really ‘easy’. The beach, mostly made up of stones of varying sizes interrupted by driftwood of varying size, provides an unstable walking surface with plenty of obstacles. For someone who has had two hip replacements in the past 8 months and is still a little unsteady on her feet, this half mile beach walk was difficult. But looking back to the east after one near tumble, suddenly, there it was – Perry Nuclear Power Plant, the two towers rising above the trees, and not too distant.


In the other direction one could just make out the lighthouse at Fairport Harbor, a tiny bump poking out into the lake.

Our exploration covered the eastern half of the park’s trail system, a total of about two miles. There is an equal amount of trail in the area of the park lying west of Lane Road, which we did not explore. 


If you go: We took 90 to the Vrooman Road exit, then north on Vrooman, over the bridge (closed to semi-trucks but not to cars), a hard right at the top of the hill, then left on Lane Road. Stay on Lane to reach Lake Erie Bluffs. Another park of interest in this area is Indian Point, access to which is just before the Vrooman Road Bridge. Indian Point overlooks the juncture of the Grand River and Paine Creek.