Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — August 2009

Erie Bluffs State Park

by Gary Thronbloom

Overlook view from Erie Bluffs

Atop the bluffs looking out over Lake Erie · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Looking through the opening in the forest at the turquoise to deep blue water extending to the horizon and then as far east and west as could be seen, and listening to the cadence of waves pounding the shore below it was easy to stand in silent awe. Erie Bluffs, Pennsylvania’s newest State Park, features vast views of Lake Erie from atop 90-foot high bluffs.

According to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy it was glacial retreats and advances that shaped this site, and Lake Erie waves that created the bluffs.  While the views are fantastic a visit is incomplete without making your way down to the cobble and pebble beach, the last mile of undeveloped Lake Erie beach in Pennsylvania.  Both perspectives are only gained by enjoying a walk through the tall trees that include areas of old growth.

Erie Bluffs is located in Erie County about 2.5 miles west of Lake City along PA 5.  Current access is easiest by parking at the Elk Creek Access or at the park entrance along PA 5.  A word of caution — the park is a work in process and there are no marked trails.  Recently when I visited, a couple stopped as they drove around the parking lot looking for trail signs.  I encouraged them to simply take a walk into the woods on the meanderings of the current paths, and work their way either out to the overlooks at the bluffs or down to the lake.  They were not interested.  Do not let this stop you, it is easy to explore and enjoy this State Park!

From the Elk Creek Access go north past the restroom and in less than 75 feet take the path and head into the woods.  Go uphill for the overlooks, or parallel Elk Creek along the side hill out to its mouth for a walk along the lakeshore.  From the park entrance follow the cornfield edge until you see a path into the woods at the far end.  By following the most traveled paths you will eventually make your way out to the overlooks.

This undeveloped nature oriented park is an excellent place for discovery.  From towering tulip, hemlock, maple, oak, and basswood trees, to may apple, wild leek and trillium at your feet, each season will be special.  On my visit, flutelike notes from wood thrush drifted from the recesses of the forest, while woodpecker drumming echoed.  While on the beach a bald eagle dropped from over the bluffs and followed the shoreline, its tail feathers glowing white.

Along the shoreline with Tom Furman

Fuhrman, President of Lake Erie Region Conservancy standing on the beach in Erie Bluffs State Park · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

On a subsequent visit to Erie Bluffs I was accompanied by Tom Fuhrman, President of Lake Erie Region Conservancy.  Tom grew up spending time in these woods, on the beach, and floating out in Lake Erie along this shoreline.  He needed no additional reason to be the force behind protecting this land.  He thought it was important to “share this with others, to make it possible for others to enjoy this.”

In his “two-hour tour” Tom took me to see Duck Creek in addition to the bluff views and beach.   Duck Creek is in a steep sided ravine.  The views from the top were impressive as we gazed into the tops of tall trees, and Tom’s vision of a low-impact cable bridge spanning the ravine for hikers would take you through tree tops and fit nicely into the plans for this nature based park.

After following an old road down to the lake shore we walked upstream along Duck Run.  When the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy inventoried this area they took a good look at the small streams and found numerous insects — caddis flies, stone flies, and craneflies — that indicated pristine water.  WPC sighting of an Acadian flycatcher was an indication of the high quality hemlock forests in the deep hollows.  One more way to explore and enjoy Erie Bluffs is to take a walk along these streams to see what a healthy stream looks like.

In addition to enjoying what is here now imagine what this park will be.  The vision is for current disturbances in the forest to be restored as warm season grass meadows and to connect isolated woodlands and decrease forest edge, increasing the total area of interior woodlands.  Five trails in stacked loops will let visitors choose hikes according to their abilities and interests, and these trails will cover major focal points.  Trails will also be linked to other regional trails.   Canoeists and kayakers will be able to explore by water from the mouth of Duck and Elk Creeks.  Tom related an account from a friend who saw seven eagles gliding above the bluffs as he gained the perspective from a couple hundred yards out in Lake Erie.

Erie Bluffs, as all of our public lands, is protected for not only our enjoyment, but also for the enjoyment of future generations.  And public lands provide habitat that plants and animals need.

Visit Erie Bluffs State Park and see what is possible when dedicated individuals and organizations work together to preserve Pennsylvania, and when our elected representatives do what is best.

To see the many varied ecosystems in Pennsylvania it is sometimes necessary to drive several hours. Occasionally that is the way I get “on the trail.”  Some places are worth returning to.

And my next visit to Erie Bluffs?  I plan to see it by water, visit what may be the largest colony of bank swallows in Pennsylvania, or maybe look for pumpkin ash!

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net