Kelleys Island State Park
eBird Bar Charts by Season
Tips for birding Kelleys Island State Park
Kelleys Island State Park is a stop on the Lake Erie Birding Trail.
About Kelleys Island State Park
Evidence that ancient civilizations inhabited this area includes several prehistoric mounds and earthworks on the island. Mysterious petroglyphs carved into a massive limestone boulder known as Inscription Rock are believed to date back to the 1600s or earlier. Prior to the 19th century, the Lake Erie Island region was inhabited by Ottawa and Huron (Wyandot) Indian tribes and visited occasionally by European explorers.
In the early 1800s, Kelleys Island was known as Cunningham’s Island, after an early settler who lived and traded with the Indians. Cunningham left the island as tensions escalated in the War of 1812. After the war, a small timber operation was established on the sparsely populated island to provide fuel for Lake Erie’s first steamer, “Walk on the Water”. In 1833, businessman Datus Kelley, along with his brother Irad, began systematically purchasing parcels until they owned the entire island. The Kelley brothers developed infrastructure for shipping along with timber operations, limestone quarries, and orchards and vineyards. In 1840, with a population of 68, the community was renamed Kelleys Island. The diverse workforce of immigrants from a number of European countries gave the island a reputation as a melting pot where various cultures and customs were tolerated.
Wine production was introduced in 1842, and by the early 1900s, dozens of wineries were active on the island, with the largest, the Kelleys Island Wine Company, producing 500,000 gallons of wine per year. In 1891, various independent quarry operations producing high-quality building stone as well as flux stone were consolidated as the Kelleys Island Lime and Stone Company. The merger resulted in a continuous quarry pit stretching more than a mile across the island. Most of the quarry operations ceased by 1940. Commercial fisheries were active from the mid-1800s until the mid-1950s.
Kelleys Island State Park was cobbled together from properties acquired by the state of Ohio, including lakefront property and the beach purchased from the village of Kelleys Island, the north pond and adjacent land, and the historic East Quarry, formerly mined by the Kelleys Island Lime & Transport Co. The glacial grooves near the north shore were set aside as a State Memorial in 1932. Kelleys Island became a state park in 1956.
Kelleys Island, in the western basin of Lake Erie, was formed during the glacial period when massive ice sheets from Canada advanced into Ohio. Glaciers gouged and scoured the bedrock, and their tremendous weight left deep depressions which filled with meltwater as the climate warmed and the glaciers retreated, forming the Great Lakes. Evidence of the glaciers can still be seen in the grooves and striations in the island’s limestone bedrock. A large tract of grooves, 15 feet deep and 35 feet wide, has been exposed by a historic quarrying operation and is believed to be the largest example of glacial striations in the world. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, ranging from 25 feet deep in the western basin to a depth of 120 feet in the eastern basin. As a result of its lopsided, shallow basin Lake Erie is known for its sudden, violent storms with high waves. Its warm temperatures produce greater numbers and varieties of fish than any other Great Lake, including walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass and white bass.
Kelleys Island State Park encompasses two state nature preserves, the North Shore Alvar, and the North Pond, which harbor unique natural features. Where Kelleys Island’s limestone foundation is exposed to Lake Erie and battered by waves and the wind, a rare alvar ecosystem has formed. The low cliffs, limestone shelves and thin, dry soil on the shoreline are inhospitable to trees, but ideal for the growth of prairie grasses and lichen, and rare plants including balsam squaw weed, Pringle’s aster, and northern bog violet. Inland from the alvar, the North Pond, a 30-acre emergent marsh and swamp forest that drains directly into Lake Erie, is one of the few high quality, natural marsh communities remaining on the Great Lakes.
The North Pond offers excellent birding, with hundreds of species of migrating songbirds, and dozens of waterfowl species resting here before winging across the lake. There are nesting pairs of bald eagles in the area. The shoreline provides precious habitat for the unique Lake Erie water snake. The eastern fox snake is common and harmless but often mistaken for a rattlesnake because of its bold coloration and tendency to shake its tail when alarmed. Other resident reptiles and amphibians include the Blanding’s turtle, red-eared slider, midland painted turtle and common map turtle, and the mudpuppy, northern redback, smallmouth and marbled salamanders.
Red cedar trees are abundant on the island, particularly in the abandoned limestone quarries. The endangered lakeside daisy has been transplanted here to establish a successful population outside its only known Ohio habitat, an active quarry on Marblehead Peninsula. Other rare plants on the island include the rock elm and the northern bog violet.
From Kelleys Island State Park webpage
Restrooms at locations identified on Kelleys Island State Park map.