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Kelleys Island, Ohio

Kelleys Island

Mark and I snuck away to Kelleys Island this week, which is almost the closest spot on the Great Lakes to us and is definitely one of the most natural. I'm a bit afraid to tell you how much we loved it or the island may be swamped the next time we try to visit. On the other hand, the $72 ferry ride (two people and a car, round trip), must cut down on what would otherwise be a total inundation.

Inscription rock history

Oh, but wait! There was a bit of a dud involved in this exploration. Inscription Rock, a Native American petroglyph, was pretty disappointing. The 300- or 400-year-old carvings in a big limestone boulder have pretty much worn away despite the roof erected in the 1980s. On the other hand, the history museum (from whence I stole this series of images) filled in the blanks very nicely and made me almost feel like I'd seen the original carvings.

Glacial grooves

Everything else on Kelleys Island was phenomenal. The glacial grooves were Mark's and my second-favorite part of the island (although impossible to photograph in their full glory). This massive gully carved out by a mile-high glacier over 10,000 years ago is encircled by mind-bending educational signs (albeit a bit hard to read at 40 years old). You can also find smaller, unmarked grooves on the island if you look carefully. (I found one set!)

Embayment wetland

"So if glacial grooves were only your second-favorite attraction, what was your favorite part?" I can hear you asking. The North Pond Loop Trail, a nearly mile-long boardwalk through an old-growth wetland (aka an embayment pond) was so beautiful I felt like I was walking through a botanical garden...but one sculpted by nature rather than by man.

Giant Swallowtail

There were butterflies and flowers and an out-of-the-way observation tower in which Mark and I relaxed and listened to the waves on the nearby beach while watching the world go by. Finding some place beautiful and alone to just sit is probably our very favorite vacation activity, and we indulged repeatedly.

Lake Erie alvar

From a plant-geek perspective, the alvar on the northwest side of the island was just as amazing as the embayment pond. Also known as limestone pavement, this iteration of the ecotype looked quite different from the one I'd explored in the UK eighteen years earlier. The ocean-like Lake Erie was right there, for one thing, so the glacier-scraped rock wasn't as bare as the pavement I remember seeing inland. And the slap of the waves up through cracks in the alvar lent an auditory edge to the pavement on Kelleys Island that the other example didn't possess.

Alvar plants

On the other hand, those same features made the Kelleys Island alvar feel a bit pedestrian at first. What's the big difference, I wondered, between this and a rocky beach by any sea?

It wasn't until I got down on my hands and knees and started peering at (and photographing) the tiny, rare flowers that barely manage to cling to the rock that I understood what makes the Kelleys Island alvar so special...and delicate. No wonder it took me two tries to actually find the habitat, which is close to but not actually on any trail.

Cobble beach

Speaking of special, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the preserves I missed. (After all, we were only there for a day and a half, and I spent quite a bit of time lounging in the airbnb's semi-private beach.) The brochure I picked up at the ferry dock's visitor center on the way out tempted me with the Huntley-Beatty Preserve for an example of a man-made alvar, the Scheele Preserve for rare rock elms, wafer ash, and citrus, and the East Quarry for fossil hunting. I guess we'll just have to go back...although I'm thinking Pelee Island might be on the agenda as well.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I wonder if the Pelee you mentioned is part of Canada's Point Pelee National Park, which I visited the summer I turned 16.
Comment by Errol Sun Jul 22 09:17:26 2018
Hi--I'll look that up! I am so happy about your refreshing glimpse of Lake Erie, and of the tiny flowers:) thanks for your good summary, and I hope you do check out that other island, too!
Comment by adrianne Sun Jul 22 10:08:02 2018

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