Venture: Geneva State Park

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

One of the toughest battles of my life has been trying to convince people that you can swim in Lake Erie and not die of the plague. You mention Erie, they retort with fires on the Cuyahoga River. You mention remediation, they bring up industrial waste.

End of story. My case means nothing: I've been swimming up north since I was six months old, and I'm doing OK.

In a perfect world, these arguments would actually happen at one of Erie's beautiful beaches, not here in Columbus, where ugly rumors spread like wildfire. Geneva State Park would work just fine.

Located about 50 miles east of Cleveland, this small but charming enclave of shoreline and inland marshes is the perfect spot for swimming, fishing and boating. Looking for a last-minute idea for the holiday weekend? Here it is, just three hours from Columbus.

Geneva doesn't offer the wilderness of sister parks in the southern part of the state, but it's designed for free and easy fun on the shores of a bona fide water body.

The sandy beach is deep and wide, with 300 feet primed for aquatic fun. One sunny day last weekend, roaring winds created clean, chest-high sets perfect for boogie boarding and, if you had the right equipment, a bit of longboarding.

There used to be a surf shop nearby, but today only the breaks remain. It never approaches Maui. Then again, there's no sharks, sharp rocks or salt.

Mostly you'll find waters calm enough for a quick, refreshing wade. Erie's shallow depths allow it to warm quickly, so temperatures should remain in the 70s through at least the middle of September.

The beach has a changing room and a few vending machines, but your best bet is to pack a picnic basket or grab lunch at Geneva-on-the-Lake, a tiny historic beach hamlet with food stands and burger joints aplenty. It's a short bike ride beyond the eastern end of a two-mile paved trail that tours a large portion of the park.

Elsewhere, a bustling marina with a launch ramp houses sailboats, jet skis and cabin cruisers. Those after perch, smallmouth bass and other panfish can hit a fishing pier that extends from a rockier part of the shoreline.

If you're looking to stay the night, you can camp, rent one of 12 lakefront cabins or stow away in the Lodge and Conference Center at Geneva-on-the-Lake. The new building is one example of efforts by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to improve high-end comforts at its parks.

Even if it's filled, the beautiful, 109-room resort offers a nice bar and a restaurant with a terrace grill - the perfect spot after soaking up rays or for taking shelter during one of Erie's notorious storms.

If you do get caught in one, don't flee. Just find cover and watch. Acres of thick clouds will slice the water into giant swaths of green, blue and gray, and the endless, heaving sky is like nothing you've ever seen.

Day Tripper: Geneva State Park

Location: Geneva

Distance from Columbus: 185 miles

Size: 698 acres


Reason to go: Swimming, boating, fishing

Other amenities: Six miles of hiking trails; 93 electric campsites; beautiful lodge with 109 suites, indoor pool and wine tastings; cross-country skiing; birding

While you're there: Through Labor Day, hit the tiny entertainment strip in Geneva-on-the-Lake. In addition to arcades, mini-golf and other cheap fun is a collection of dive bars, food stands and burger joints. Your best bet is Eddie's Grill, 5377 Lake Rd., an open-air diner that has served patties and fries the same way since 1950.

For more photos of Geneva State Park and daily Nature Notes, click to the Venture blog.