The Buffalo News
June 30, 2013
Enjoy Erie’s Bayfront District
When my daughter and I decided to go to the Great Lakes Beach Glass Festival at Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed looking at lovely beach glass jewelry and other items. However, we also discovered a beautiful city waterfront that’s definitely worth the two-hour trip from Buffalo. I had never really visited Erie, Pennsylvania, other than driving past it on the Thruway when heading to points west and once briefly visiting Erie’s Presque Isle State Park.
Waterfront convention complex
We found a world-class convention facility, with breathtaking views of the waterfront and Presque Isle State Park across the bay. The building itself is boat-like in appearance; its design has been described as resembling a ship that’s heading out into Presque Isle Bay. This design reflects Erie’s maritime heritage and is a symbol of the rebirth of Erie’s downtown waterfront area.
The building’s 28,000 square foot great hall is the site of conventions and shows (like the festival we attended), as well as theatrical performances, commencement exercises, and private events. Outside the great hall, floor to ceiling windows overlook the entire waterfront area.
After browsing through the many vendors at the festival and buying much more beach glass jewelry than we should have, we decided to check out what else was on Erie’s waterfront. We headed across the 170 foot long, all glass skybridge, 65 feet above the water, which connects the convention center with the adjacent Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel. We took a peek into the hotel lobby and determined that it looked like a nice place to stay, as it is centrally located and offers great waterfront views.
The high point (literally and figuratively) of our visit to Erie’s waterfront was the Bicentennial Tower, located at the end of Dobbins Landing, a public dock adjacent to the hotel. This 187 foot tall tower, built as part of the city’s waterfront development in the mid 1990’s, commemorates the City of Erie Bicentennial, which was celebrated in 1995. For a nominal fee of $3 per person, you can ride the elevator to the top and take in the view from a very windy open-air observation deck. We enjoyed a spectacular view of Presque Isle State Park and Presque Isle Bay, as well as downtown Erie. Since I am somewhat of a history buff, I especially enjoyed the 16 informational plaques that are located along the edges of the observation deck. Take the time to read them to get an overview of waterfront and local history. For an even closer view of the area, there are a number coin-operated telescopes on the deck.
Other waterfront attractions
There are several other waterfront attractions located just a short drive from the Bayfront Convention Center, including Presque Isle State Park, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, and the Erie Maritime Museum.
Presque Isle State Park, a 7 mile long, 3,200 acre peninsula, is a popular summertime destination, which is understandable, considering it has eleven beaches on Lake Erie. Presque Isle also has 11 miles of hiking trails, as well as a 13.5 mile multipurpose trail for bicycling, in-line skating, hiking, and jogging. Discover Presque Isle Days, an annual festival which includes a variety of activities, musical entertainment, and beach volleyball, takes place July 26-28. (www.discoverpi.com)
If you enjoy looking at lighthouses as much as I do, you’ll want to check out the two lighthouses within Presque Isle State Park, as well as a third lighthouse on shore near downtown Erie. The circa 1872 Presque Isle Lighthouse features a 57 foot tower that overlooks Lake Erie. While the interior is not open to the public, you can view this lighthouse from the beach.
On the Erie Harbor side of Presque Isle, the North Pier Light has been guiding ships into the Erie Harbor Channel since 1858. Visitors can walk along the pier out to the light. The Erie Land Lighthouse can be seen on the opposite side of the channel.
Another Presque Isle landmark is the Perry Monument, built in 1926 to honor Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. This battle was actually fought on the west end of Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio. However, Perry and his men returned to their home port on Presque Isle Bay to repair their ships and to get medical treatment.
Located at the entrance to Presque Isle State Park, (about 4 miles west of downtown Erie) the Tom Ridge Environmental Center; a 65,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, features exhibits about area history, ecosystems, wildlife, and bird migration. When we visited a few years ago, my family especially liked climbing to the top of the 75 foot glass enclosed observation tower, which overlooks Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park.
Erie is also known as the “Flagship City,” since it once was the home port of Commodore Perry’s flagship, Niagara, which fought in the historic Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. A replica of this ship is located at the Erie Maritime Museum. This museum chronicles Erie’s role in Great Lakes history from the War of 1812 until the present time. (www.flagshipniagara.org)
Perry 200 Commemoration
One of the signature events happening in Erie in 2013 is the year-long Perry 200 Commemoration, which is the celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. There are several special events taking place throughout the year including a Tall Ships Festival September 5-8, which features 9 tall ships that will sail into the Port of Erie. Other events include a spectacular fireworks display on July 4th and the Perry 200 Festival of the Arts July 11-14. For more information visit www.perry200.com
If you go
Visit Erie, 200 East Bayfront Parkway, Suite 103, Erie, 814-454-1000, 1800-524-3743, www.visiterie.com.
Bayfront Convention Center, 1 Sassafras Parkway, Erie, 814-455-1260, www.bayfrontconventioncenter.com.
Bicentennial Tower, Dobbins Landing, Erie, 814-455-6055.
Presque Isle State Park, Foot of Peninsula Drive, Erie, 814-833-7424
Tom Ridge Environmental Center, 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie, 814-833-7424, www.trecpi.org.
Erie Maritime Museum, 150 East Front Street, Erie, 814-452-1813, www.flagshipniagara.org
Directions (to waterfront area).
From Buffalo, take the NY State Thruway (I-90) west to exit 32 for PA-290/PA-430 west; continue west on PA-290 (Bayfront Connector) to Bayfront Parkway.