Beachcombing in Presque Isle State Park: Erie, Pennsylvania

By Rebecca Ruger

Presque Isle

It’s a beach comber’s and outdoors lover’s paradise: 3,200 acres of sandy peninsula that stretches out into Lake Erie from the northern Pennsylvania city of Erie. Presque Isle State Park includes Pennsylvania’s only surf beaches, two lighthouses, 13 miles of scenic trail for walking and biking, and sees over 4 million visitors every year. Presque Isle offers something for everyone—kayaking and boating, fishing and hunting, bird watching, scuba diving, and houses a US Coast Guard Station.

There are actually 11 separate beaches, each one having its own niche—Beach 10 draws the kite-surfers; Beach 6 is considered best for families; Beach 11 for those with very small children, etc.

The first settlers of Presque Isle were likely the Native American Erie people, sometimes known as the Erieehronon or Erielhonan. Part of the indigenous Iroquois tribe of North America, they lived and roamed along Lake Erie for an indeterminable amount of time before a five year feud with the Seneca Iroquois wiped them out in the mid-1600s. The French built the first fort in Erie, PA and named the island—Presque Isle roughly translates to ‘peninsula’. They built military outposts on the isle itself, adding to the natural defense the peninsula offered. Forts on and in the vicinity of Presque Isle would trade hands—British, other Iroquois tribes, and then finally to American hands after the War of 1812.

In 1921, Presque Isle officially became a state park and is currently managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The Tom Ridge Environmental Center at the entrance to the park which opened in 2006 is comprised of 65,000 square feet of exhibits and displays about the history and ecology of the isle. The Center also has a movie theater, gift shop, a cafe, visitors center, and an observation tower that overlooks Lake Erie.

The current manager at Presque Isle Gallery and Gifts, Terri Reed—who founded the sea glass trailblazing Relish, Inc. with her sister Jennifer Reed—talked about beach glass on Presque Isle.

“Back when we started, you could walk out there and you couldn’t pick it up fast enough. And you’d start walking back, and there would be more beach glass on the beach you just walked.”

Presque Isle State ParkBut times have changed. As beautiful as Presque Isle State Park is, those 4 million visitors a year seem to be enjoying the once plentiful bounty of the Pennsylvania stretch of Lake Erie. Like so many other public beaches, the state park might today be characterized as over-picked, but when you do find beach glass, it will be perfectly finished as egg-shaped, pea sized baubles.

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This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine May/June 2018 issue.

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