The Lake Erie Islands are a group of archipelagic islands situated in Lake Erie. Located along the Canada-US international border, Lake Erie occupies an area of about 9,910 square miles, making it the fourth-largest of North America's Great Lakes, and the eleventh-largest lake in the world. The archipelago contains thirty-one islands located in the western portion of Lake Erie, eighteen of which belong to the United States and the remaining thirteen are part of Canada. A majority of the Lake Erie Islands are under the sovereignty of the US state of Ohio, while Pelee Island is the only significant inhabited island that belongs to the Canadian province of Ontario. Many of the islands are inhabited throughout the year by small populations, but population totals increase dramatically with the arrival of tourists during the summer.
Geologically, the Lake Erie Islands are part of the Silurian Columbus Limestone. When Lake Erie was carved out by ice sheets during the Pleistocene glaciation, the hard limestone bedrock was more resistant to erosion than the shales on the eastern side, and as a result, the western end of the lake is shallower than the eastern basins. Extensive quarrying activity in the Kelleys Islands exposed glacial grooves on the bedrock that are now protected as part of Kelleys Island State Park.
The Biggest Island in the Lake Erie Islands
Pelee Island is the biggest of the Lake Erie Islands. Located in the western half of the lake, Pelee Island occupies an area of about 16 square miles and is the southernmost populated area in Canada, while Middle Island is the southernmost point in Canada. Pelee Island experiences a milder climate than inland parts of Canada due to the effect of Lake Erie and its southerly location. The island has been used for wine making and vineyards for over a century and is also a crucial flyway for migratory birds between Point Pelee, the Lake Erie Islands, and the state of Ohio. Pelee Island has a unique ecosystem that includes plants such as the yellow horse gentian and wild hyacinth, which are rarely found in Canada.
The Most Tourist-Friendly Island in the Lake Erie Islands
South Bass Island is the most tourist-friendly island in Lake Erie, despite its small size. South Bass Island is part of Ottawa County, Ohio, and is the third biggest island in Lake Erie. The village of Put-in-Bay, which is located on South Bass Island, is the most famous tourist destination in the region. South Bass Island is linked to the mainland by ferries from Sandusky and Port Clinton, Ohio. According to the 2000 Census, Put-in-Bay had an estimated 128 permanent residents.
Wineries and grape farming were once the primary sources of income on the islands, but the Lake Erie Islands are now supported by tourism. Some of these islands, such as South Bass Island, offer various amenities including biking, hiking and lounging. Most of the bigger islands are served by ferries, while some have private marinas and small airports that are used by visitors. South Bass Island has a number of vineyards and is the most developed. A large percentage of the vineyards on Kelleys Island have been replaced by forests. Limestone mining is still common on Kelleys Island.