News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Algae Bloom is dying and should be totally gone within a week

According to the latest Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) bulletin, issued today by NOAA, imagery indicates that the bloom in western Lake Erie is dying. However the bloom persists around the Bass Islands, Pelee Island, and Kelleys Island extending to Cleveland. The bloom is expected to move east while not going past Cleveland.

This is big turnaround from the previous report less than a week ago. The reason given? "High winds last week likely stressed and mixed the bloom in the water column."

According to this latest HAB, forecasted winds will most likely continue to stress the bloom. Additionally falling water temperatures this week will contribute to bloom stress and continued weakening. The bloom demise is expected within a week.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Algae bloom reaches Fairport Harbor as scientific report urges cautious approach

MERIS image from the European Space Agency taken October 11 (courtesy NOAA)
Despite the onset of fall and cooler temperatures in Lake Erie, a large Microcystis bloom persists in the western end of the lake, extending well past Cleveland to the east, according to NOAA, who reported on Thursday that the eastern extent was just past Fairport Harbor. The bloom also hugs the northen shore in Ontario, to the Rondeau Provincial Park region. NOAA forecasting calls for the bloom to continue moving eastward as far as Geneva on the Lake, and remain offshore. However, the northern portion of the bloom was expected to dissipate.

This latest Harmful Algal Bloom bulletin was released coincidental to a report by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that advises both nations on issues affecting the Great Lakes, which cautioned that the scientific evidence about the causes are still too sketchy and that further study of the problem is needed. The report, and the latest HAB bulletin, also came amid increasing demands by some for quick action.

It's widely believed that phosphorus runoff from farms and municipal waste treatment plants is a leading cause of the algae problem, but climate change and invasive mussels are also considered factors. However, these assumptions are based largely on observations rather than scientific experimentation, the report says. Joseph Koonce, the co-chairman of the group that wrote the report, said further research is needed to determine the roles of each of the presumed causes.

When overabundant algae choked Lake Erie decades ago, cities improved sewage treatment and laundry detergents containing phosphorus were banned. But the problem has in recent years, and in particular this past summer, when,  scientists say, algae covered more of Lake Erie than it has in a half-century.

There is disagreement among some scientists and activists about how best to attack the problem. Many are pushing government officials for quick action. The Environmental Protection Agency announced last Wednesday that three watersheds plagued with algae including the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie, would receive special attention as part of a pending Great Lakes restoration program. And environmental groups as well as private charter boat operators want something done right away.

If next summers algae bloom turns out to be as bad as or worse than it was this year, I suspect that the hue and cry for strong and immediate action will outweigh the pleadings of scientists.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Summer of Algae: Of hype and the hope

Rich Norgard photo
I hate to say I told you so, but...

If you've been following this blog you know I've been posting regular updates about the status of the algae bloom in Lake Erie. In particular, the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Bulletins put out by NOAA have painted a consistently dim picture as this wandering sea of green slime wrapped itself around the western islands and kept going.

Now media of every stripe are shouting about the summer of algae -- how this is the worst that its ever been and how we'd better take some action to fix it before its too late. Of course, if you grew up in near Lake Erie during or since the 1960s you know that algae blooms in the lake are nothing new. You also know that this year has been different. The bloom has been far more persistent and widespread. And the experts say its potentially life threatening, to people, animals, you name it.

We know the primary causes of the algae blooms are municipal wastewater discharge and farm runoff. The question is, do we have the political will to take the steps necessary to solve the problem? The solutions will not be simple, or cheap. We won't be able to toss a magic tablet into the water and make the nasty stuff disappear. Nor can we wish it away.

To get some action in this political environment you have to frame it around jobs: If we don't fix this the hit to our tourism and fishing industries will be $xx.xx billion. As if the health of our children was not reason to do something. Those who want to eliminate the EPA use the twisted logic that it is costing jobs, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the lack of stewardship of our air and water will result in thousands of death and injuries, countless lost work days, cleanup costs, etc., etc. (does anyone really believe that the the EPA haters want to destroy it to save jobs, as opposed to, say, do the bidding of lobbyists?)

This may perhaps put to the ultimate test the notion, so prevalent today in this poisoned atmosphere of shrinking budgets and toxic politics, that we have to choose between jobs and the environment. You can't be on the sidelines on this one -- you have to make a choice. Are you on the side of those who believe we just can't afford to have clean air and water? Or do you believe that maybe, just maybe, by working together we can give ourselves the clean air and water we and our children deserve AND still have a functioning economy. You have to decide.

So if it takes some political posturing and pandering, if that results in some action, put me down. Because this yucky green stuff is hurting the lake.

On second thought, I don't mind saying I told you so when it comes to the health of Lake Erie, the environment, and all of us.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Woman found alive after falling overboard

Richard and Amy Nearhood (photo courtesy Toledo Blade)
A 52-year-old Temperance, Michigan, woman who fell into Lake Erie near the mouth of the River Raisin on Sunday was found alive a short time later suffering from advanced states of hypothermia. 

Amy Nearhood and her husband were traveling in a boat from Monroe, Michigan to the Ottawa River Yacht Club in Toledo when she fell overboard. She told sheriff’s deputies that she was at the rear of the vessel looking for a blanket when she was bumped into by another occupant and fell overboard.

Immediately after her husband reported her missing, boats and helicopters from the Monroe County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Coast Guard began searching the lake near Monroe. Then, more than an hour after she was reported missing, an employee at the coal-fired plant in Monroe found Nearhood walking on the utility’s property where she had swam ashore.

Nearhood was taken to Mercy Hospital in Monroe.

Mrs. Nearhood told sheriff’s deputies that she was at the rear of the vessel looking for a blanket when she was bumped into by another occupant and fell overboard.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

PBS special on the War of 1812 will highlight Lake Erie battle

At 9 p.m. EST this Monday, PBS will air a 2-hour special on the War of 1812. It includes a segment on the Battle of Lake Erie and the lasting legacies of Oliver Hazard Perry's "Don't Give Up the Ship" battle flag and his victory message that inspired our young nation: "We have met the enemy and they are ours."

The Battle of Lake Erie was a turning point in the War of 1812. It secured American control of the Great Lakes, forced a British retreat and led to a 200 year peace between the U.S., Great Britain and Canada.

Events that transpired on Lake Erie almost two hundred years ago are an important part of our local heritage and in 2013 those events will be replayed and recalled as part of a massive Bicentennial celebration. The Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial Celebration in late August through September 10, 2013 will bring together hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S., Canada and abroad. The two-week Celebration will include a large fleet of Tall Ships in an historic reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie, a grand Parade of Sail and Port Festivals in waterfront cities in the U.S. and Canada. Visitors will be able to tour the Ships, enlist as Crew Members in the reenactment, or be part of the Bicentennial Fleet or Militia. Official invitees will include representatives from the U.S., British and Canadian governments as well as Native American Indian groups. It will be an epic Celebration for Ohio, the Great Lakes region and our nation. Click here to learn more about the Battle of Lake Erie Bicentennial preparations and activities. I will be reporting on the upcoming Bicentennial celebration in the months to come.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

I can see for miles...

Davis-Besse nuclear power plant from 10 miles away. (Rich Norgard photo)
I've written before on this site about the ever changing nature of Lake Erie. It's a fact that the lake never looks the same on any two given days -- each one has its own special beauty. Well this past Tuesday was truly one of a kind because the visibility out over the water was as remarkable as I can recall seeing. I don't know if it had anything to do with those several days of continuous wind and rain perhaps clearing the air, but it was truly a sight to behold.

The Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, roughly ten miles distant, looked much closer, as the photo I snapped above will attest. My first realization, though, that this was a special day was when I looked out over the lake and saw that West Sister Island was not only visible but was clear as bell. Now on most days you can't see the island at all. The island is about 18 miles as the crow flies across the water. Even on fairly clear days it's just not there. More astounding still, just to the left of West Sister I could see quite clearly the huge smoke stacks at Monroe, Michigan, and adjoining structures. (See photo below) Now often times you can see the tops of the stacks but almost never the buildings themselves. I'd always attributed the inability to see more as due to the curvature of the earth. But on Tuesday some phenomena was at work that flattened the earth, metaphorically, allowing objects normally over the horizon to be visible. If you are a tekkie and happen to know what this is, please let me know and I'll share it.

The smoke stacks on the left, located in Monroe, Michigan, visible to the naked eye from 36 miles away. West Sister Island, on the right, at a distance of 18 miles. (Rich Norgard photo) 
As sunset neared, the sun itself had a brilliance to it seldom seen. I was driving into Port Clinton with a friend along the Sand Road and we both remarked how bright and white the sun appeared to be.

Lake Erie reveals many wonders, but Tuesday was a very special day indeed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lighthouse Festival worth checking out

One day each October the Marblehead Peninsula is alive with the sights and sounds of the Lighthouse Festival. That day is this Saturday, October 8th. Three separate locations on the peninsula will feature activities of one kind or another.

Tours of the Marblehead Lighthouse will be given to guests on the day of the festival between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for a nominal charge of $2. Built in 1821, the Marblehead Lighthouse the second oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the oldest in continuous operation on the Great Lakes.

Another center of activity will be the Wolcott House, perhaps better known as the Keeper's House. It is the oldest home in Ottawa County and home to the first three Marblehead Lighthouse keepers. The 1820s stone home at 9999 East Bayshore Road will be open for tours, as will the museum/gift shop and cemetery from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Ottawa County Historical Society purchased the house in 1989 and formed a Keeper's House Committee with the goal of restoring the property to as close to its original appearance as possible. Most of this work have been completed including replacing the roof with an historically accurate style, shoring of the north east corner of the building, complete restoration of the east and repair of the west fireplaces, and repairing portions of the floor. Several years after the purchase, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places

Tracie Henson, of Strings of Glory, will perform there between noon and 2 p.m. Hot bean soup, corn bread and cold cider will be available for a donation on the grounds, as will a small farmers' market. The Keeper's House fundraiser raffle drawing will be at 3 p.m. Prize items include a framed and signed print by Ben Richmond, Holiday Hearth; a sterling silver lighthouse pendant and chain from G.S.E. Jewelers; and a Heritage Design king quilt and shams and a John Deere canister set from Martha and Molly's. Tickets are available for purchase from any OCHS member, at Martha and Molly's, at the Marblehead Bank on 269, or at the Keeper's House Annex until time of the drawing.

And at Lakeside there will be more than 80 arts and crafts vendors displaying quality collectibles, under the sponsorship of the Marblehead Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. The many other activities that day include a free Walking Tour at 10:30 a.m., movie poster sale, hayrides, free miniature golf and shuffleboard, and corn hole tournament. Please don't ask me what that is.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Adrift on Lake Erie: How a painter immortalized the story of four brave girls

I happened to be sifting through my collection of old postcards when one in particular caught my eye. The postcard (seen above), postmarked in Simcoe, Ontario, bears the title "Adrift on Lake Erie" and is noted to be "from a painting by W.E. Cantelon." I remember wondering when I bought the card online whether this was based on a true story. On the reverse side was printed the following:
Ena V. Stickney, aged 15, Luella Winters, aged 14, Louie Lowick, aged 15, and Stella Howick, aged 13, on July 20th, 1907, while playing in an old boat at Port Ryerse, Ont., were caught in a hurricane and after ten hours' brave battle with a heavy sea, were driven over to Big Bluffs, Long Point, twenty miles distant, landing about midnight.
Intrigues, I did some further checking. I soon learned that William Edgar Cantelon of Doan's Hollow, Norfolk County, Ontario was a painter who dedicated his life to collecting and preserving the history of Norfolk County. Cantelon was born on a pioneer farm near Streetsville, but young Edgar was not interested in the usual boyhood pursuits. His passion was sketching and painting. In those less than tolerant times, Cantelon was considered strange but fortunately his parents encouraged his passion for art. His mother saved the white paper found wrapped around tea they bought at the general store which she smoothed, folded and stitched together to create sketch books for her son. Edgar fashioned brushes from the ear hair of the family dog, clipping enough to make two or three brushes.

After studying art in Chicago, Cantelon returned and set up a studio in downtown Simcoe and began to paint. Much of his work was commissioned, consisting of portraits of local area residents but he was also keenly interested in documented local history. And then in 1907 he read a story about four local girls who had survived a wild night on Lake Erie.

It seems the four girls were out in Long Point Bay in a punt -- a long, narrow flat-bottomed boat commonly used for hunting. The boat was powered by using a pole and paddle. A storm arose and strong winds carried the boat and its passengers farther and farther from shore. With only the single pole and paddle, the girls could not get back. They were at the mercy of the storm-tossed lake.

Winter and the Howick girls bailed the boat with their aprons, while Stickney worked to keep its nose turned into the wind. As the four fought to survive on the water, those on shore were losing hope. The July 26, 1907 edition of the Waterford Star described the frantic search: "A search party started out on foot and in boats and a messenger was sent to Port Dover to get a tug, as there was a heavy sea and one boat had been overturned in the afternoon and the occupant had to be rescued. Sunday morning, all hopes of their safety had been given up by all except Mrs. Stickney, who said they would be found alive."

She was right. After what must have been a harrowing night on the lake, the girl's boat came ashore at Bluff Point near the tip of Long Point, a long spit of sand that juts out twenty miles into Lake Erie. From where they landed they were led by a small dog to a nearby home. The next day, the four returned home aboard a fish tug. They become instant local celebrities and known as "the four brave girls of Port Ryerse." Winter and the Howick girls later gave credit to Stickney for saving their lives.

After the incident, Cantelon photographed the girls in a rowboat in front of the Simcoe high school and from these pictures created four oil paintings. The paintings and photographs were turned into postcards, which gave the four greater fame in the area. Several years ago the Port Dover Harbour Museum celebrated the girls' story with a special exhibit of three of Cantelon's paintings.
William Edgar Cantelon died March 3rd, 1950. In his lifetime he produced nearly 8000 paintings. A large number of them can be viewed at the Eva Brook Donly Museum in Simcoe, Ontario.

Thanks to his determination to memorialize the local history, the story of these four young girls and their harrowing voyage on Lake Erie will long be remembered.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Living with the lake

Lake Erie has been crazy the last several days. Today news outlets were reporting 9 to 12 foot waves out in the open lake, fueled by high winds and accompanied by rain that sometimes seemed torrential.

Anyone seeing the lake in all its fury is surprised at its power, but for those of us who grew up nears its shores, its nothing new. We know the power of those waves and we've come to respect that power.

I observed a rather modest display of that power Saturday morning. I went outside to check on my brother-in-law's 21-foot Lyman tied up in the lagoon next to the house. The small L-shaped harbor opens up to the lake in such a way that a good northwest or north wind send waves barreling into the mouth almost unhindered. In case you don't know, two foot swells play havoc with floating docks and the boats that are tethered to them. I could hear the groan of metal as the steel docks strained against the lumbering Lake Erie swells.

As I scanned the docks that lined the seawall close to the lagoon entrance, I immediately noticed something amiss: one of the docks was inclined at an odd angle. I walked up to it and saw that one of two steel pins that hold the dock to the seawall had come loose and one side of the dock was swinging free, held only by the one remaining pin. The dock, and the floating jet-ski "dock" and jet-ski that sat atop it, were swinging wildly in the heaving water. The way the dock and its attachments were whipping around like a wounded snake, I feared the remaining pin would give way and the who mess would slam into other docks and boats, causing further damage.

We rounded up a few of the neighbors and they came to take a look. Various options were considered. I fetched a long rope from the garage and we tied one of the cleats on the dock to a cleat on the seawall, hoping that if the remaining pin failed, the dock wouldn't float away. Shortly thereafter, the dock rolled over on its side, allowing it to fold into an "L" shape. Once in that shape, the far end began to swing around toward the seawall. That gave me an idea. I returned to the garage and grabbed a long wooden boat hook and the next time the dock swung close enough, we were able to snag it with the hook and hold it close the seawall while one of the neighbors put a rope through a dock cleat. Once that was accomplished we were able tie it off to the seawall. That left it in the lee of the adjacent dock and, we believed, relatively secure for the time being.

Such is the power and, yes, beauty of the lake we call Erie. We often enjoy it. We sometimes curse it. But always we respect it.