Summers on South Bass Island are busy… really busy. More than 800,000 guests visit the island and the town of Put-in-Bay every year as part of their summer vacations, and Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Lab are ready to add just a touch of Lake Erie science and history to the memories tourists take back home.
“Visitors to Put-in-Bay should definitely plan a trip to at least one of our facilities this summer,” said Dr. Kristin Stanford, Stone Lab’s education and outreach coordinator. “Whether visiting the South Bass Island Lighthouse, Aquatic Visitors Center or Gibraltar Island, guests of all ages can enjoy a little bit of history, a little bit of science and a whole lot of beautiful island scenery.”
Across the bay from downtown, Gibraltar Island and Stone Lab welcome visitors during weekly tours that cover the island and its history, including Perry’s Lookout, where Commodore Perry first spotted the British fleet during the War of 1812, and Cooke Castle, a 15-room Victorian home built by Civil War financier Jay Cooke in 1865.
At the Aquatic Visitors Center (AVC), a historic fish hatchery turned nature education center in downtown Put-in-Bay, 12,000 visitors learn about Lake Erie issues every year. Displays and hands-on interactive stations introduce guests to the history of the hatchery, Lake Erie critters from tiny plankton to large sportfish, and current issues facing the lake, such as harmful algal blooms. Aquaria filled with native and invasive fish offer a first-hand look at what lives under the lake surface, and Stone Lab staff are on hand to lead the free tours and answer vistor questions.
“Whether visiting the South Bass Island Lighthouse, Aquatic Visitors Center or Gibraltar Island, guests of all ages can enjoy a little bit of history, a little bit of science and a whole lot of beautiful island scenery.”
Dr. Kristin Stanford
Kids under 16 can also borrow fishing gear at the AVC and fish off the dock outside for free. Many catch their very first fish there during a visit and the experience is often a steppingstone towards wanting to learn more about Lake Erie and its inhabitants.
“Fishing is a really easy way to get people to pay attention to Lake Erie,” said Tory Gabriel, Ohio Sea Grant’s Extension lead. “A lot of times kids get their first fishing experience at one of our events.” And even if they don’t become avid anglers later on, it’s a memory that tends to stick with these kids.
At the other end of the island, the South Bass Island Lighthouse introduces visitors to the history of the building, which was constructed in 1897 and served as a working lighthouse until 1962, and to some of the issues affecting Lake Erie today. Tours, including a chance to climb the lighthouse tower, are offered the second Saturday of most months during the summer (September tours are on the first Saturday), and the grounds are open daily during daylight hours.