Pennsylvania has 121 State Parks. It has parks beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for the letters I, Q, X, and Z. I have experience with only Presque Isle but it surely must be one of the better ones. Ruth & I visited Presque Isle State Park last April, and I’m glad we drove its 13 mile loop road twice. The first time we were on it was a beautiful almost-spring experience on the first day of trout season. Presque Isle State Park was alive with hundreds of bicyclists, hikers, couples with children, and people generally welcoming better weather. The next day it rained and the temperature hovered near 32 degrees all day. Snow was a real possibility that never materialized. Presque Isle was a windy and unpleasant place to be but we persisted because we wanted to see the nothing-special lighthouse and the Perry Monument we hadn’t stopped for the day before.
The Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Island State Park’s entrance has become its visitor center. It’s a dynamic and necessary stop. I blogged it separately. Among Tom’s best attractions are an explanation of how and why the sandy peninsula this park is on formed, a fun reality sandbox that kids and Ruth loved, a complete and unusual gift shop, and what is called the Big Green Screen. In the summer this screen shows about 3 films daily. An excellent, very worthwhile 15 minute film about the formation of the sand spit and more is almost always available in the Orientation Theater too. This Center will be closed from Christmas to New Year’s Day and can operate on a modified schedule when it’s not summertime. Call 814 833 7424 if you want to know what’s happening. This state facility is opened year round but is a day-use-park in summer. Winter activities include ice fishing and ice skating.
Presque Isle State Park is on a 3,200 acre sandy peninsula that juts out into Lake Erie and will have its 100th birthday in 2021. It’s connected to the mainland 4 miles from downtown Erie. There are 11 beaches on this spit for mostly summer use and 17 trails throughout. The most popular trail seems to be Gull Point, which has variable conditions and is sometimes closed. Gull Point goes all the way to an observation platform at the most easterly point of the park. A major battle of the War of 1812 was fought on Lake Erie not too far from Presque Isle. Commodore Perry’s sailors renamed Little Bay on Presque Isle’s south shore Misery Bay as the result of their experiences. This was probably a wise decision.
Presque Isle State Park encompasses 6 ecological zones. Its most common tree is the cottonwood but its most curious plant is the flesh-eating Bladderwort. This sand spit, the Great Lakes, and the rivers that feed them formed after the last Ice Age. Composed of clay, sand, and gravel, this remarkable spit sits atop a glacial moraine. Its most curious feature that I would like to see some time are ice dunes. Despite the fact that Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, its winter waves and freezing spray create 12 foot high dunes. One display at Tom Ridge describe this spray as being like meringue on a pie. Sounds like an interesting phenomenon to see.