One Tank Trip: Kellys Island - Paradise Close To Home

Daily Globe Staff Reporter

KELLEYS ISLAND, OHIO - This one tank trip includes travel by air or water, but however you choose to get to the largest American island in Lake Erie, you'll be glad you went! But before you go, take some time to carefully plan a few stops and research the island a bit. Many island gems are unmarked or well hidden from those who don't abide by island time and the philosophy - "Slow down and enjoy".

Kelleys Island is located 62 miles from Shelby, and it takes approximately two hours to get there, including ferry travel time.

Kelleys Island is most easily accessible by the Kelleys Island ferry, which departs from Marblehead every half hour for most of the year. Other ferry services are available from Sandusky and Put-In-Bay, but the best option if you are visiting for the day or staying for a while is to take the Kelleys Island ferry from Marblehead. The cost is $32 for a vehicle (round trip) and $20 per person ages 12 and over (round trip). Seniors are $16.50 and children $12.50.

Golf cart rentals are available on the island, but it's overall more convenient to take your own vehicle. Parking is $10 at the ferry parking lot, and renting a golf cart can be expensive on the island, if you are able to find one. They can go quickly. However, getting to many of the popular island spots can be done easily by walking or bicycling. Bicycles can be brought over on the Kelleys Island ferry for a cost of $6, or rented on the island. The most easily accessible rental area if you are traveling via Kelleys Island ferry is Seaway Marina for golf carts and Portside Marina for bicycles. Carts are also available at Caddy Shack Rentals, Kelleys Island General Store, Portside Marina, and The Casino. Bicycles can be rented at Portside Marina and Caddy Shack Rentals. The island does have a taxi service as well.

The real "season" for the island life is May through early September, but you can still enjoy the island, maybe even more so, during off-season, when the locals are enjoying each other's company and their homes. Islanders are the most friendly people you will meet and will engage in conversation with anyone. Staying in a bed and breakfast will enhance your overall experience on the island, especially if you want to know where the best food is or some history of the island or the people who now inhabit it.

Even if you are renting a house, condo, or hotel room (which are very limited and more expensive during the season), the island offers a rich history for its visitors. Promptly after exiting the Kelleys Island ferry from Marblehead, visitors will encounter Inscription Rock, which is a highly preserved rock with Indian carvings, known as pictographs. These pictographs date to the 17th century and are believed to record hunting and traveling in the region by natives.

The land was unsettled by European immigrants largely until a French pioneer by the name of "Cunningham" lived successfully with the natives for some time until a disagreement drove the natives to attack Cunningham, sending him fleeing from the island; he later died of the wounds inflicted during the conflict. The island was then known as Cunningham for several years. Cunningham was used in the War of 1812 as a base by General William Henry Harrison. After the war, natives left the area, and different settlements were attempted.

The most successful settlement would be by the Kelley family, who began great limestone, lumber and wine making businesses that would ensure the island's growth.

The original Kelley House used to be open to the public, but most all historical homes on Kelleys Island are now privately owned, and many of the ruins are too dangerous for public visits, so your best bet is a visit to the island's museum, where you will be warmly welcomed and your children will be entertained and educated as you research the island for yourself at various different stations of the museum. Staffed by islanders and local authors, the museum staff is eager to share their knowledge about the impressive Lake Erie Island.

Naturalists will enjoy all that Kelleys has to offer. From the most preserved glacial grooves in Ohio to wetlands, woods, and alvars that compare to the rocky cliffs of Ireland, Kelleys Island provides days worth of excursions for all who love nature, history, and outdoors. "Health" magazine named Kelleys Island one of the Top 10 "America's Healthiest Beach and Lake Getaways" in 2009.

Camping is available at Kelleys Island State Park, which lies near one of the nicest beaches on the lake shore. The sand beach was manmade, and it is cleaned and kept every day by park staff. During the season, paddle boats and kayaks can be rented on the beach for a voyage a bit further beyond the swimming area.

From almost any lakeside road you can see beautiful sailboats and people enjoying recreation on Lake Erie. The many marinas available to boaters bring enthusiastic crowds to the island's shores, where many eateries and pubs await them. A little further inland, the restaurants become more family friendly, but are just as popular with boaters.

The Buckeye Bar is dog friendly, with water dishes available on the patio for furry friends. Buckeye Bar is located right in the downtown area, behind the putt putt golf course. Live music entertains the downtown area from the Buckeye Bar's outdoor patio frequently. Recreation such as pool and video slots are available inside. Many places boast they have the best pizza on the island, but it's really true at the Caddy Shack, which is housed in the same building with Buckeye Bar. Their sandwiches are also amazing.

In addition to good food, entertainment, and putt putt, the downtown area has unique shopping experiences, ice cream, and a small park. In the morning, visitors flock to the coffee shop to get fresh coffee and donuts from Rock, Baker, Sippers Bakery and Coffee Shop. This coffee is best enjoyed on the freshly raked sand beach of the State Park.

Between downtown and some of the more hidden gems on Kelleys Island is a city park, complete with bathrooms, a pavilion with electric and water, a play set for children, and a ball field. This site houses the yearly carnival and circus as well as numerous inter-island ball tournaments.

Kelleys Island Winery is family friendly and offers the best wine and grape juice on the island. Some finer foods such as duck quesadilla and cheese plates are available at the winery along with more common foods such as pizzas, flatbreads, and sliders. The winery is well known for their sangria. Live entertainment abounds at the winery under twinkling lights, as it is often the location of larger get-togethers and small intimate parties as well.

The Island House Martini Bar (located downtown) has more upscale cuisine, including almond encrusted perch with balsamic currant glaze, wild boar chops with apricot and miso reduction, beets and Chevre salad, duck fat fried potatoes and cold water lobster rolls.

There is plenty for individuals, couples, friends, and families to do on Kelley's Island. Even celebrities such as Big Chuck enjoy time on Kelley's yearly, visiting his summer island home, as does former Governor of Ohio Dick Celeste. You could be lucky enough to run into them on the island. Just a bonus to an already amazing adventure.

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