COLUMBUS – Sunbathers, sandcastle “engineers,” beach volleyball players and surf waders will find more sandy space for their favorite shoreline recreation this year as a result of Lake Erie’s lower-than-average water levels.
With Lake Erie water averaging about 9 inches below normal in May, state parks from Geneva on the east to Maumee Bay on the west are reporting an increase in sandy beach frontage.
At Geneva State Park in Ashtabula County, manager Doug Burgett said the swimming beach now stretches an additional 10 to 15 feet farther down to the water than it did in 1999. Sands remain cleaner since lower water levels keep debris farther from shore, he added.
The three beaches at Cleveland Lakefront State Park – Villa Angela, Euclid, and Edgewater – are within walking distance of the city’s neighborhoods and attract the most visitors in the state park system each year. An average summer weekend will find as many as 20,000 people on the sand in the three locations.
Park manager Wayne Holmes said receding lake waters have left the beach 5 to 10 feet broader than in previous years, creating more room for sunbathing and other fun.
Lake water tends to remain cool until late June, so good swimming doesn’t really begin until July, Holmes added.
Lower lake levels have brought the deep-water drop off at Cleveland Lakefront closer to shore. Park officials are urging swimmers to be cautious of changing levels on the lake’s bottom. For the same reason, Holmes also encourages parents and guardians to keep a keen eye on those in their group.
The sand at Headlands Beach State Park in Lake County is a full 100 feet broader than it was just two years ago, said Dave Frank, assistant park manager. Headlands Beach is another popular mid-summer swimming destination that attracts up to 15,000 beachcombers on the weekend.
Unlike Cleveland Lakefront, the drop off to deep water is now farther away from shore at Headlands. Also, the beachscape is more attractive since little debris washes up, Frank added.
Farther west, at East Harbor State Park in Ottawa County, park manager Ina Brolis sees about 20 feet more beachfront than in previous years. And experience tells her that the beach size will only increase as the summer progresses. Since water depths in most areas of the East Harbor beach were traditionally only ankle-to-knee high, Brolis plans to relocate the swimming area slightly to the east where water is deeper.
The beach at Kelleys Island State Park in Ottawa County is at least 20 feet wider this year than last, according to manager Scott Doty. He plans to take advantage of the newly found space with beach volleyball courts.
Doty said the increased sand beach also allows more play area for children. a plus since the park is especially popular with families.
Current Lake Erie water levels have less of an impact at Maumee Bay and Crane Creek state parks in Lucas County as fluctuating waters have always been a fact of life in the lake’s western basin. The beach area was always expansive, according to manager Jim Brower.
But people now have more room to bird watch along the shore – a popular park activity.
Maumee Bay State Park also offers an alternative swimming and sunbathing site at an inland lake where water levels are controlled. Brower said many visitors prefer the inland beach to the Lake Erie side.
Mussels a problem.
He urges visitors at nearby Crane Creek State Park to wear swim socks or similar footwear. While there’s more exposed sand than ever before at Crane Creek, receding waters have brought piles of zebra mussels closer to swimming areas. The mussels’ sharp shells can cause painful cuts and scrapes if stepped on by a swimmer or wader, Brower said.
Lake Erie water levels are expected to remain 8 to 12 inches below the long-term seasonal averages for the remainder of the summer. However, deviations from anticipated weather patterns could result in levels higher or lower than those projected.