One of five Lake Erie Islands parks, Catawba Island serves as a getaway to Ohio's Great Lake. This day-use park features four boat ramps and a cobblestone beach area for launching kayaks and canoes. The park's greenspace and Lake Erie views are perfect for birdwatching and photography. A rustic stone shelterhouse offers plenty of room for family gatherings of all kinds.
Four launch ramps provide access to Lake Erie. Canoes and kayaks may launch from the cobblestone beach, along the shoreline near the shelterhouse.
A fishing pier provides access to the lake where yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish and walleye are dominant species.
Two picnic areas with modern restrooms are available.
Under the proper conditions, park visitors can enjoy ice skating and ice fishing.
History & Natural Features
Prior to the War of 1812, the Lake Erie Island region had been occupied by Ottawa and Huron (Wyandot) Native American tribes at different times throughout the years. A testimony to their existence on the islands is carved in Inscription Rock on Kelleys Island. Pictographic writings over 500 years old are etched in this massive limestone boulder. The Ottawa and Huron were eventually moved out by European settlers. The War of 1812 ended the last Native American threat to the European settlement of Ohio. One decisive naval battle of that war was fought in Put-In-Bay, off the shores of South Bass Island. Oliver Hazard Perry with an inferior fleet defeated the British making famous his saying, "We have met the enemy and they are us."
The victory gave the Americans control of Lake Erie and led to the ultimate defeat of the British in that war.
The islands remained sparsely settled until 1854 when Jose DeRivera purchased five of the islands. At first he turned Put-In-Bay into a sheep ranch, having at one time a herd of 2,000, but eventually he converted the island into a fruit farm. Despite the extreme northern location, the islands have the longest frost-free period of any area in Ohio due to the stabilizing effect of the lake.
It soon became apparent to islanders that the cultivation of grapes was very profitable. The grape culture has had a dramatic influence on the islands, sometimes called the "Wine Islands." By 1887, more than one-third of the grape product and nearly one-half of the wine product of the entire state was credited to this area. Wines from these islands were once pronounced by the best judges as being comparable to the best productions of France.
In addition to raising fruits, the islands supported other profitable industries. Additional businesses included red cedar logging, limestone quarries, and fish propagation.
South Bass Island has been famous as a summer resort. Ruins of the Victory Hotel, destroyed by fire in 1919, are still evident. Tourism thrives today making the islands one of the most popular vacation spots in the state. The five areas comprising Lake Erie Islands state parks were added to the state park system in the early 1950s.
Several parks comprise the Lake Erie Islands group. The islands were formed during the glacial period when massive ice sheets entered Ohio. Glaciers gouged and scoured the bedrock; their tremendous weight left deep depressions which filled with meltwater, forming the Great Lakes.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, allowing for violent storms with high waves. The lake is divided into three basins. The western basin has an average depth of 25 to 30 feet; the central basin averages 61 feet; and the eastern basin shows an average depth of 120 feet.
Lake Erie has high nutrient levels and warm temperatures which produce greater numbers and varieties of fish than any other Great Lake. Annual catches nearly equal the combined catch of all other Great Lakes. Yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish and walleye are dominant species.
The islands are composed of limestone and dolomite bedrock. Moving glaciers left their marks as small scratches in the rock surface known as striations, and major grooves at Kelleys Island, which are rare but awe-inspiring.
Vast stands of red cedar and the presence of underground caverns, both associated with limestone are found here. The islands and shoreline support a variety of reptiles including the state's highest concentration of the harmless fox snake. The timber rattlesnake was at one time quite prevalent on the islands but is now gone from the area. Rattlesnake Island was so named due to the presence of this reptile years ago.
Migrating songbirds rest here before winging across the lake. Hundreds of different species have been identified, making this one of the best birdwatching areas in the country.