Newest Lake Erie Destination: Ashtabula County, Ohio
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018
Tucked in Ohio’s most northeast corner is a place where the land is so bountiful that locals can tell you where “the ducks walk on the fish.”
Ashtabula County has long been known as an affordable lakeside destination with its 26 miles of Lake Erie shoreline. In the early 20th century, it was a favorite annual retreat for three friends: John D. Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford. The gentlemen camped and fished at what is now known as Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s First Summer Resort.
Here, Geneva State Park and Marina is home to The Lodge and Conference Center, the region’s premier lodging facility. Lake Erie Canopy Tours is the area’s newest attraction, offering zip lines, a ropes challenge course, and a kid’s course.
The nostalgic beach-bum charm of what locals call “the Strip” is evident at the seasonal Geneva-on-the-Lake businesses, like Eddie’s Grill where visitors can enjoy an old-fashioned burger, fry, and root beer. And year-round businesses like Crosswinds Grille offer upscale lakeside dining with menu ingredients sourced locally.
The area teems with natural resources, including three scenic rivers and two state parks. However, it is the rich and fertile soil paired with the area’s climate that creates conditions ideal for growing grapes. These conditions bore life to a vibrant and expanding vineyard region, known as the Grand River Valley, and is currently home to 24 wineries.
On the ridge of the Grand River, visitors will find rolling acres of manicured vineyards. On sunny days in the fall, the sweet smell of ripening grapes hangs heavy in the air and everyone drives with their windows down to breathe in the delicious scent. Fresh-pressed grape juice should be on your bucket list if you’ve never tried it!
The wineries are very hands-on. Guests are often served by owners or their family and friends. Cellar tours are common and visitors can participate in a robust calendar of events year-round. In the winter, curl up by a crackling fire with a plate of crusty bread and local cheese while you listen to live music.
This is one of the few places in the world where ice wine is produced. Grapes are harvested while frozen. It is not unusual to see crews harvesting by moonlight using headlamps. These grapes are high in residual sugar and produce a very sweet dessert wine, popular in small servings. An Ice Wine Festival is held each March to showcase the newest vintages.
Ashtabula County grows 70% of all grapes grown in the state of Ohio. And the wines produced here have won national and international awards, often paired against some of the finest vintages. It is fast-becoming one of Ohio’s premier viticulture destinations. Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and Chambourcin grow especially well, but the region has begun to see boutique wineries open who specialize in outstanding dry reds.
Local wines are proudly served in several restaurants in northeast Ohio, including those on historic Bridge Street in Ashtabula Harbor. This deep-water port is where the Ashtabula River meets Lake Erie and is home to a lighthouse, maritime and underground railroad museums, mouth-watering restaurants, and several shops and boutiques.
The river is spanned by the iconic bascule bridge which is one of the few of its type still functioning in the country. Stop by Harbor Perk for a cup of in-house roasted coffee or grab a bite to eat at Briquettes serving some of the best BBQ on the northern border!
From the harbor, visitors are a short distance from the longest covered bridge in the United States: Smolen-Gulf Covered Bridge. A pedestrian covered bridge, Riverview, is located below it. Ashtabula County is home to 19 covered bridges, also including the shortest in the U.S. Most of the bridges are still in use today. It is where the past meets the present.
Traveling further east along the shoreline, past several public beaches adorned with beach glass, Conneaut Township Park in Conneaut, Ohio, is the second deep-water port in the area. This sleepy town comes alive each August when they host the second largest D-Day re-enactment in the world. This is an epic living-history event with over 5000 reenactors, planes, tanks, amphibious vehicles, and more.
The region’s festivals draw thousands of people year-round. The Grape Jamboree celebrates a favorite local product. The second-largest D-Day reenactment in the world replicates the invasion at Normandy. The Wine & Walleye Festival is complete with a lighted boat parade and fresh walleye sandwiches. There is a Beach Glass Festival with whimsical jewelry and don’t forget the Thunder on the Strip Motorcycle Rally.
Ohio’s northeast corner truly has something for everyone. It is an accessible, affordable Lake Erie destination and is, time and time again, referred to as “a hidden gem.”
Click on www.visitashtabulacounty.com to plan your trip today!
This article first appeared in the Winter Issue (Jan/Feb) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.