Thursday, July 30, 2015

Kayaking: Lake Erie and the Black River in Lorain, Ohio

Tuesday morning we launched our boats at a small, driftwood-covered beach in Lorain, Ohio, just east of Spitzer's Lakeside Marina. The weather was calm and sunny. We had a great paddle out into Lake Erie, around a rocky riprap, past a fishing pier, and up the mouth of the Black River.

It crossed my mind that the return trip would be extremely easy since on the way back we'd be going with the flow of the river as it moved toward Lake Erie and with the small waves of the lake as they rolled toward the beach.

Then the wind kicked up. The downstream trip on the Black River was about as strenuous as the upstream one -- in other words, still easy because the river is slow. Once we got back into the lake, however...well, the waves were bigger than I like to see/feel them. 

The best way to kayak in rough water is to keep your boat's bow and stern perpendicular to the waves. But at a couple of points we just had to paddle parallel to the swells. So we did. And we got tossed around a bit. And we were fine. The most water either one of us took in was when I (Bev) got to shore and was immediately hit with a wave that rolled over my backside, legs, and the kayak's open cockpit .  

We may stay off Lake Erie for a while.

As for the Black River, however, we'd both go back. A few photos and words below describe the trip, except for that last section back on Lake Erie. I had to keep my hands off the camera and on the paddle.

Jim putting his boat in the water at the Lakeside Marina in Lorain, Ohio. Lorain is about 30 miles west of Cleveland.
Jim paddling out into Lake Erie, around a riprap and toward the mouth of the Black River.  It was calm when we put the boats in about 10 a.m., but pretty darn choppy when we returned at 2 p.m.
Lorain, Ohio, as seen from the mouth of he Black River.  Lorain flourished in the early 1900s and was home to ship building, iron ore plants, steel mills, and other rust belt industries -- in fact William McKinley Sr., father of the US president -- was the superintendent of Lorain's first iron furnace business. As the rust belt cities got even rustier, Lorain's fortunes took a downward turn. Its Ford Assembly Plant (where the Econoline van was built) shut down, plus steel plants slowed and finally stopped production. Lorain has a beautiful location, however, and could be a great city once again.
Bumpers made of huge logs chained keep a wall from damaging boats in parts of the Black River. The 12-mile-long river begins where its east and west branches meet in Elyria, Ohio. The branches travel further south into Ohio's Lorain and Medina counties.
Bev's boat headed for the The Charles Berry Bridge (named for a Lorain native and Iwo Jima hero) which crosses the Black River on Erie Avenue in Lorain. Built by the WPA in the 1930s, it's a drawbridge-type bridge. A nearby sign said the bridge opens every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour with a few exceptions.  We were there at bridge opening time, but it didn't budge. 
Jim about to kayak under the second bridge we cane to on the Black River in Lorain, Ohio: a vertical lift rail road bridge.
The same bridge as above ...except now it's been lowered and a train is on the tracks.
This vehicle and passenger ferry was tied to the side of the Black River just before the Lofton Henderson Bridge, the third bridge we saw on the river. A local newspaper article said the 90-foot vessel was Canadian made and operated and that it "mysteriously showed up on the Black River in the early 2000s having run aground..." The article also said no one knows who it belongs to. Instead of cars, it's now is full of swallow nests.

Lorain hosts an annual International Festival honoring the many nationalities who live in the city. It's held at the above-pictured Black River Landing. As we paddled, our view changed from parks like the above to gravel pits and heavy equipment.
A Great Blue Heron near the mouth of the Black River. You can tell it's a Great Blue by the black stripe on its head... and the fact that it's so freaking big. Blue Herons are the largest of the North American herons.


  1. Bev, you keep blogging about places that remind me of my sordid past. This time, it is your discussion and documentation of the Black River.

    First, and foremost, what great pictures of the Lake and River! I know that it is hard for some to see the beauty of a river that has barely been gentrified, and upon whose banks are the rusted relics of a different economy. But those pictures of yours truly show the bones of a river and city that once epitomized the muscles that powered the wealth of a country and the rise of what was, at the time, the world’s most affluent middle class. I think you need to start submitting your work to National Geographic.

    My personal memories of the Black River are not of the river’s industrial mouth, but more inland and rustic, near the small town of Belden. I lived near this small village (coincidentally only about 15 miles from your farm in Wellington) on a small farm for most of the 4th and all of the 5th grade. (The school I attended, had all twelve grades in it, and the building was small.) During those two summers in Belden I had two great passions, playing little league baseball, and swimming in what we referred to as the Black River. After reading your blog and consulting a map I now know that it was the East Branch of the Black River in which we were diving. A distinction, that had I known at the time, would have been perfectly wasted on me. My friend, Earl who lived on the next farm down the road (state route 303) and I would ride our Schwinn Road-Masters to Grafton for Little League practice, almost always stopping on the way to spend an hour or so swimming in the “Black” River. Our favorite swimming whole was underneath an active train trestle that was a little ways down a side road. This spot was frequented by lots of farm urchins and we were seldom there by ourselves. Of course in my memory, that trestle was ten stories high, and only the bravest boys would dare dive off. A more honest recollection would be that it was low enough that almost everyone used it as a diving platform and our biggest risk of injury was being dived upon by some other swimmer. The other negative consequence of this aquatic diversion was having to hear our Little League coach rag on us about not swimming before baseball practice or the games because it made us too tired. But we were ten, and he had to be at least twenty-five, so what would he know!?!

    At any rate, your blog has reminded me that somehow back then, the summers were hotter, longer, and without a care in the world. It is for this reason that I cannot now look at a ten-year-old boy without being completely envious. Of course the little brat never knows how good he has it.

  2. Such nice comments. Thank you. Another memory about Beldon, this time from my Mom: She and my Dad met there at a school dance; I'm guessing they met in the same building where you (much later) attended school. Mom says it's been torn down, but there are obviously still lots of memories.

  3. The tie-in to your Mom and Dad, and then by genological extension, you!, makes Sandy and me like Belden even more! (Sandy said that it gave her the chills and she now thinks that you and she are practically sisters!) I guess that I am not surprised to find that the building has been torn down. I was running through those halls on the shady side of half a century ago and the building was old then.

    I know exactly where your parents met! It had to be the gymnasium, come-lunchroom, come-assembly hall, come-morning art classrooms (desks/lunch tables were cleared out after lunch for what we called then gym classes, today phys. ed.), and most importantly come-dance hall. The floor was also the school’s basketball court that was so small that the center circle overlapped the two free-throw circles, no three-point arcs back then, and the wooden floor itself was grievously warped giving the home-team an extraordinary, if unfair, advantage as our guys could anticipate which way the ball would bounce. At both ends of the court were cinder block walls. On one side of the court was a raised stage and the other side raised stands. As I recall the stands were raised about six feet above the court, so when down on the floor you felt like you were in a pit. Bev, it was in that pit that your personal history was being made!

    Standing on the court, looking towards the stage, there was a door on the left. This particular door had an almost mystical hold on the minds of us late grade school boys. For it was through this door that the older boys and girls would sneak outside to do a little sparking. Of course, none of my friends had any actual knowledge of this, though Ronnie Mole did have an older brother (7th grade) who assured us it was so. Since I have no first hand data, for further information on the "Sparking Door", you are going to have to consult with your Mother.

    1. Mom is keeping mum on the sparking door, but she remembers the Mole family. I thought you were making up that name -- and about 75 percent of the rest or your stories ;) -- but Mom’s comment has increased your credibility. She said the Moles had an insurance company in Grafton, which is where Mom grew up. Anyway, after I read your comment, we decided to take a road trip, so we drove to Beldon and Grafton. Found out that the Beldon’s first settler was Bildad Beldon. Jim says he must have been a hobbit. (And I also think that Sandy is my sister.)