The Buffalo News
May 19, 2013
Summertime Fun along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail
It’s about the journey, as well as the destination, for travelers along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. This 518 mile long scenic byway, which travels through two states, takes voyagers to places that they might overlook if they traveled on the superhighways. Take this relaxing scenic route and you’ll discover wineries, museums, and cultural attractions, as well as a variety of recreational activities, such as hiking, biking, fishing, and boating.
The Great Lakes Seaway Trail extends from western Pennsylvania, along Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, up to the St. Lawrence River. Here is just a sampling of places along the trail that you can enjoy this summer.
Waterfronts, Wineries, and more
Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, about a 90 minute drive from Buffalo, is a great summertime destination that has eleven, yes eleven, beaches on Lake Erie located on a beautiful 7 mile long, 3,200 acre peninsula. My family visited here a few years ago and it is definitely worth the trip from Buffalo.
The park has 11 miles of hiking trails, as well as a 13.5 mile multipurpose trail for bicycling, in-line skating, hiking, and jogging. The popular Yellow Bike Rentals (814-835-8900) rents traditional bicycles, as well as 4-wheeled surreys, tricycles, roller blades, and even paddle boats. The annual Discover Presque Isle outdoor festival takes place July 26th-28th. (Presque Isle Partnership www.discoverpi.com)
If you enjoy visiting wineries and sampling New York State wines like I do, you’ll want to check out Lake Erie Wine Country. ( www.lakeeriewinecountry.org ) The region stretching from Harbor Creek, Pennsylvania to Silver Creek, NY, has two dozen wineries along this nearly 50 mile long wine trail, which closely follows the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. Spend the afternoon visiting just a few wineries or a long weekend paying them all a visit. The 6th annual America’s Grape Country Wine Festival will take place on august 10th-11th at the Chautauqua county fairgrounds in Dunkirk. (www.agcwinefestival.com )
While the name Chautauqua describes the county, as well as the lake, most people associate the name Chautauqua with the Chautauqua Institution, which has served as a center for performing arts, education, religion, and recreation for over 130 years. The 750 acre institution attracts over 150,000 visitors from all over the world for its nine week summer season. A gate fee is charged to enter the village during the summer season, except for Sunday, when admission is free.
(Chautauqua Institution, NY 394, Chautauqua, NY, 716-357-6200, www.ciweb.org )
Beaches, bluffs and boating
Ontario Beach Park, located north of Rochester on Lake Ontario is a favorite spot of mine. It has one of the nicest natural sand beaches in the Great Lakes Region, as well as a 1905 Dentzel carousel and a very long fishing pier, which is great for taking a long stroll on. There is a concession stand in the park, as well as several restaurants located along Lake Avenue. http://www.monroecounty.gov/parks-ontariobeach.php
One of the more unique places to visit along Lake Ontario’s shore is Chimney Bluffs State Park, located about 2 ½ hours from Buffalo. This 597 acre undeveloped state park is named after the large clay drumlin formations along the lake which were glacially formed six to ten thousand years ago. These formations are continuously changing in shape due to constant erosion.
Many people enjoy hiking the bluffs, however caution must be used at all times. Visitors are warned to stay away from the edges of the cliffs, as they can break away easily, since there is no support under these cliffs. You can safely view the bluffs from the shoreline below. (Chimney Bluffs State Park, 7700 Garner Road, Wolcott, 315-947-5205, www.nysparks.com/parks/43/ )
Given the proximity to lakes and rivers, boating is very important along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. Learn more about the area’s boating heritage at the Antique Boat Museum, located in Clayton, NY. This museum, located on 4 ½ acres along the waterfront, consists of ten buildings with 29,000 square feet of exhibit space. One can even take a short ride in a traditional wooden rowing or sailing craft.
One of the more interesting boats on display is the La Duchesse, built in 1903 by millionaire hotelier, George Boldt. The houseboat served as a summer residence for Boldt. Since 2005, it has been docked at the Antique Boat Museum and open to the public for tours.
The museum’s 49th annual Antique Boat Show and Auction, planned for August 2nd -4th, features locally built antique and classic boats. It is the oldest continuous antique boat show in the world. The museum is open 9-5 daily, mid-May to mid-October. (The Antique Boat Museum, 750 Mary Street, Clayton, 315-686-4104, www.abm.org )
Many of us may dream about owning a castle on our very own island. For two millionaires at the turn of the 20th century, that dream was a reality in the Thousand Islands.
Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island near Alexandria Bay, was built by millionaire George Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, as a symbol of his love for his wife Louise. However, in 1904, before the castle was competed, Louise died suddenly and work on the castle stopped. It was left abandoned until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and preservation efforts began. Some of the recently completed interior projects include restoration of the ballroom, library, reception room, dining room, and bedrooms. Outdoors, the verandas have been replaced, the gazebo rebuilt and the yacht house has had improvements. The castle is open to the public for tours, early May to early October. Visitors can access the island by tour boats or private boats.
(Boldt Castle, 315-482-2501, www.boldtcastle.com)
On the other hand, Singer Castle on Dark Island was actually completely furnished and resided in by the owner. Designed by Ernest Flagg, a leading architect of the time, Singer Castle was built between 1902-1904 by Mr. Frederick Gilbert Bourne, a self-made millionaire from New York City. He bought Dark Island and had the castle built as a surprise for his wife Emma and their nine children. The four-story, 28 room castle, originally called “The Towers,” cost $500,000 to build.
Visitors today, who arrive by tour boats or private vessels, take a 45 minute docent led tour of the castle, which is open weekends starting in May and daily, late June to early September. Overnight accommodations are available in the castle’s Royal Suite. Packages include a private tour, dinner and breakfast.
(Singer Castle, 1-877-327-5475, www.singercastle.com )
Watching your ship come in.
Another point of interest along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail is the Eisenhower Locks in Massena, which have an observation deck where visitors can watch freighters as they move through the St. Lawrence Seaway. The nearby Frank S. McCullough Jr.-Hawkins Point Visitor’s Center, run by the New York State Power Authority, has hands-on exhibits on how the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Hawkins Point Power Plant work.
(NYPA Visitor’s Center and Eisenhower Locks, Barnhardt Road, Massena, 315-764-0226, 315-769-2049 (locks). Call 315-769-2422 for schedule of ships in the seaway).
As you can see, there’s a lot to see and do along the Great Lakes Seaway Trail no matter where your interests lie. Remember that half the fun of any journey is getting there, so pack the maps and camera and get ready to hit the trail.
To find out more about the Great Lakes Seaway Trail visit www.seawaytrail.com