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"Of the nine townships that form Erie county, this is the most northeasterly and has the largest amount of land bordering on Lake Erie," proclaimed one 1889 history of Erie County. "It was named from the river that passes to its outlet in the lake through the township."It’s easy to think Vermilion Township’s shoreline has sustained recreational paddlers forever. But its first white residents by necessity had to work the land, not the water. Historian Lewis Cass Aldrich even recorded several anecdotes of encounters with wolves and bears.
"Home life among these pioneers was primitive in the extreme," said the 1889 history edited by Aldrich. "The early settlers were occupied in making life endurable..."
In the 21st century, Vermilion Township’s coast endures million-dollar houses and alluvial dwellers endure a million-dollar view of Lake Erie in all her moods. This stretch, about five miles long, is peppered with private homes, church retreats, summer cottages, condominiums - and paddlers.
Along the shore, the neighborhoods are a mixed blessing. The good news is, the locals are almost all friendly, so if a wicked summer storm whips up on Lake Erie, you’ll have plenty of places to beach and wait it out. The bad news is the vacation population. If it’s a summer weekend and the weather is passable, anglers prowl the reefs, powerboats buzz by towing tubers and the Lake Erie water flies, er, personal watercraft generally zip hell and gone all over the place.
Launching is easy at Sherod Park north of US 6 in the township. The northernmost parking lot is close to the water. There’s a short downhill hike, which requires a bit of effort alone and almost no effort at all if you have friends to help. You may make a mess: Sometimes seaweed carpets the stony shore, so expect green feet. Owners of fiberglass boats might cringe when their hulls scrape the gravel beach and bottom.
Heading out, give wide berth to the break walls stretching out like Sherod’s arms. If you paddle too close, waves could lift up you and your boat, then plunk you down on a submerged rock. Beyond those walls, you can paddle close to shore or out a ways, depending on boat traffic and weather.
To the east, the township’s coast has houses. First comes Colonial Court. About halfway to the city of Vermilion sit the Compass Rose condos, which have a small, private marina that is hard to see from the water. It’s worth finding, though, because in a short-notice storm it would provide shelter from lightning and wind-driven waves. Blue Bird Beach also has its houses built on and near the shore.
Soon you’ve gone a mile or so and you’re inside the city limit and then comes Vermilion’s Main Street Beach, where you can land on the far east side of the strand. Credit for the paddlecraft-only lane goes to the Vermilion Kayak Club, whose members tirelessly lobbied City Council for an area accessible for ‘noes and ’yaks.
Further east are the breakwalls guarding the mouth of the Vermilion River and the Port of Vermilion. It is worth exploring, but is in the city, not the township, so that description is best left to another report.
To the west of Sherod Park is most of the rest of Vermilion Township.
The view along about five miles of coast is a mix of ostentatious wealth and functional fun. You’ll pass the neighborhoods: Cask Villa, Orchard Beach, Volunteer Bay, Baywatch condos, Grand Harbour condos, Beulah Beach, Heidleberg Beach, Keewaydin condos, Mitiwanga, then Bay Breeze condos.
They offer a variety of piers, walls, docks and various concrete assemblages built up through generations to slow erosion and enhance beach parties. U.S. 6 runs parallel to the shore and in a few spots cars seem to fly above the water. Be mindful of boat traffic - though they have all of Lake Erie to play in, motorboats may speed along within a hundred feet of shore.
Heading west, look for the Castle, the unique home of one fantastically wealthy inventor who enjoys his own stretch of Lake Erie coast. If you’re expecting battlements, drawbridges and portcullis, you may be disappointed. Even so, you’ll know it when you see it. This home has become a local landmark and anglers will give fishing reports based on it. For example: Perch are biting around the reef off the Castle.
About five miles from Sherod Park, just over the Vermilion Township line, sits Cranberry Creek Marina. Don’t bother looking for a cushy clubhouse or entertainment complex. CCM sells nice boats, but otherwise it’s a working-man’s marina, riveted aluminum deep-V hulls and all. People heading out of here play hard and fish hard. As of summer 2007, it had an adequate landing beach, a free restroom, cold pop and cheap cookies. I highly recommend those amenities.
On the way back, you’ll see pretty much the same sights in reverse - cottages, boats, camps, break walls, beaches.
Vermilion Township’s freshwater flavor remains there today. So does a hint of its early wilderness. One day off Mari-Dor Beach, I saw an aerial angler. A bald eagle traced circles over the water, spiraling down, down, down to the water to snatch a fish for supper. Keep your eyes peeled and you just might get your own million-dollar view.
From the Ohio Turnpike, exit at Baumhart Road and head north to its end at US 6. Head west into Vermilion, cross the river, go through the downtown and head out into the township. About a mile out, look for Sherod Park on the north side of the road.
URCHIN Portable Anchor