Presque Isle State Park

May 30, 2012 by  

By Nick Simonson

Each morning the arm of tree-covered land cradling the small bay on the south shore of Lake Erie would seem to wave invitingly. While I was busy suiting up for another day at trial, the gulls, ducks, geese and other waterbirds would make their way to and from the 3,100 acre peninsula on Pennsylvania’s only major shoreline, and the lightly rippled bay promised a weekend of cool running, fishing, paddling and hiking in the state park just across the water.
Presque Isle state park, which translates from French to “Almost an Island,” has been around since the last ice age and is a result of glacial deposits of sediment molded continuously by the wind and waves of Lake Erie.  Since it has formed so rapidly – geologically speaking – and is in a state of constant flux, the peninsula creates a fragile and changing biological observatory. The numerous lagoons, wetlands, ponds and dozens of miles of shoreline play host to many of the region’s fish, waterfowl, reptile and amphibian species and in turn draw outdoors enthusiasts by the thousands.
My adventure on Presque Isle began early on Saturday morning, as I met with hundreds of other fans of outdoor running for a quick 5K to kick off the holiday weekend. While stretching against a stump, I heard a familiar tweet and looked into the small stand of timber against the clearing and saw my third set of paired cardinals this year. In the twenty minutes before the race organizer shouted “GO!” I had seen seven different species of songbirds, three different rodents, two varieties of waterfowl and one leopard frog – and that was just around the parking lot where the starting line was.
Presque State ParkAs I ran the out-and-back route, I took note of the wide and towering cottonwood trees alongside the bike path and the thick undergrowth which supported the wildlife around me. The sandy soil beneath my feet was a perfect place for the large trees to take root and anchor the almost-island and create the cradle of life that jutted out into the blue water of Lake Erie. When I finished the run at 23:43 (second in my age bracket), I was all tuckered out from my first 5K of the season and ready to relax.
I couldn’t think of a better way to do so than by fishing these new waters. I rented a kayak, strung up my rods and began paddling around the lagoons and out into the bay. Numerous turtles sunned themselves in the light of the warm day. Somewhere in the thick grass at the water’s edge a heron on its nest grunted out a warning call and I paddled slowly out into the middle of the flow. Firing out my first cast, I connected with a fish. It was one of the many rock bass which were on the spawn on the gravelly shallows, digging out large craters to house their progeny. In the lagoons, snake-like gar twisted and shot out after schools of small minnows and panfish.  While a couple offered strikes at my jigs and plastics, their bony mouths provided no connection for my hooks. I longed for the four-inch rope fly which I had used in college to tangle (literally) with these fish. I managed a few nice largemouth bass that lingered along the well-developed lagoon weedline from the early spring that the Great Lakes region also experienced with the rest of the upper Midwest. Meanwhile families of Canada geese honked their way around my orange watercraft as they headed out to the bay.
By mid-afternoon, the state park was filled with people taking in the unofficial start of summer. Anglers waded out into the shallows casting after smallmouth bass, or patrolled the rocky edges in their boats. Hikers, bikers and runners moved along the trails and paths around the peninsula like blood pumping through veins and arteries, spreading life and enjoyment in the green arm of land. And while there had to have been thousands of people in the park, it wasn’t hard to get away from it all and hear only birds in the tree-covered hiking trails which connected to the main routes.
Around 8 p.m. I wrapped up my rods and tackle just before sunset and headed back to town, my hotel just a few minutes away from the park’s entrance. On the drive back, I mentally checked off all of the things I had hoped to accomplish; a run in the 23-minute range to kick off the race season, connecting with a few fish and seeing some of the area’s wildlife.  As I looked out over the bay back toward the park, I smiled and thought that if I ever had the chance to return, I’d definitely make Presque Isle state park the site for future adventures…in our outdoors.


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