25-acre Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve is
filled with sandy hummocks and sand-loving
vegetation. The dunes are up to 20 feet tall.
HARBOR, Ohio ó Once there were 170 miles of unspoiled
Lake Erie beaches with dunes and beach-loving vegetation
on Ohioís North Coast. Few remain today.
what makes Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve in Lake
County so special. It is the best and one of the last
surviving lakefront beach plant communities with its
hummocks and its sand-loving vegetation.
state is adding an 800-foot boardwalk and observation
platform this spring at the nature preserve. It is a
unique headlands landscape of sand, vegetation, forest and
sits next to 120-acre Headlands Beach State Park, the
biggest and best natural sand swimming beach in Ohio. That
beach stretches more than one mile along Lake Erie, with
up to 100 yards of sand between the water and the 19
parking lots in Mentor and Painesville Township.
gets up to 10,000 visitors a day in the summer and 2.2
million a year. It is routinely rated as the best swimming
option in an Ohio state park. It is popular for picnics,
beach volleyball, wind surfing, jet skis and fishing.
There is no breakwall and northern winds can kick up big
state of Ohio began acquiring land for a park west of
Fairport Harbor in 1951-1952. It opened in 1953 as
Painesville Beach State Park. In 1955, the name was
changed to Headlands Beach.
1957, the beach was closed when waves and undertow created
safety problems. The public enjoyed swimming instead in a
creek that flowed into Lake Erie. The undertow is still an
issue and swimming is prohibited when the waves are too
big, officials said.
state in the late 1960s added parking lots, concession
buildings, restrooms, changing buildings and a sewage
25-acre state nature preserve often gets overlooked next
to the popular state park. It is tucked between the park
and the Grand River west of Fairport Harbor.
features a natural beach and plants more typically found
along the Atlantic Coast. It is a highly specialized
ecosystem too hostile for many plants and animals. There
are 11 rare plant species.
dunes are typically found west of where rivers such as the
Grand enter Lake Erie. The dunes are shaped by wind and
water. They are up to 20 feet tall and surprisingly
colorful with reddish brown and tan-colored grasses
is a fragile environment with a handful of trails
crisscrossing the dunes. Some areas are fenced off to
plants cannot thrive on the harsh, windy beach, but they
do in the shelter of the dunes. Some have extensive root
systems, others have folding leaves to stabilize
themselves and to trap moisture.
key plants are switchgrass and American beach grass. Both
are common in the preserve but rare in Ohio.
become established on the upper beach away from the water
and quickly spread into huge rootlike mats. Sand then
drifts into the calm areas around the grasses and stops
moving. This makes the dunes taller.
the grasses are not buried and are able to simply grow up
through the accumulating sands. They are joined by beach
pea, cocklebur, sea rocket, seaside spurge and purple
the beach grass and other hardy pioneer species get
established, the dune changes. What had been shifting,
nutrient-poor sand without shade now provides stabilized
sand, partial shade and the beginning of soil as dead
plant matter decomposes and builds humus.
the dunes become established, grape vines and poison ivy
appear. Diversity grows. Cottonwood and willows emerge and
black oaks will follow.
dune-specific plants you will likely find are sand
dropseed, Canada wild rye, water-ash and wild bean.
Erie was part of the Atlantic Ocean 12,000 years ago when
the glaciers were retreating. Saltwater disappeared 2,000
years later, but the Atlantic coastal plants remained in
the Lake Erie dunes.
Dunes, dedicated in 1976, is a good spot for watching
migrating birds and monarch butterflies. Birds will rest,
feed and wait for the best weather before flying across
Lake Erie on their way north. The result can be frequent
large fallouts of warblers and other songbirds in the
are asked to walk carefully on trails and not to disturb
lighthouse at the edge of the preserve (it is private
property) marks where the Grand River empties into Lake
Erie. The lighthouse dates to 1925.
dunes are moving farther into Lake Erie, due to the
breakwall at the riverís mouth. The beach has moved
northward 2,500 feet since 1827. Thatís when the federal
government constructed piers at Fairport Harbor, so that
sands being carried by east-moving longshore currents were
trapped by the pier and the beach grew.
state nature preserve and park lie at the northern end of
state Route 44 where it dead-ends into Lake Erie.
road dead-ends into the state park parking lot. The
preserve is at the eastern edge of the parking lot.
state park is open a half hour before sunrise to a half
hour after sunset. Lifeguards are on duty select hours.
Preserve hours are daylight to dark daily.
preserve information, call Adam Wohlever at 330-527-5118
or go to www.ohiodnr.com. Click on Recreation. For state
park information, call Geneva State Park at 440-466-8400
or go to www.ohiodnr.com.
the state park to the south is Mentor Marsh State Nature
Preserve that covers 645 acres with a marsh-swamp forest.
It is jointly owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural
History and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Zimmerman Trail provides access. Itís open during
daylight hours only.
to that preserve is 450-acre Mentor Lagoons Nature
Preserve and Marina, owned by the city of Mentor. For
information, call 440-205-DOCK.
Fairport Harbor is the home of the Fairport Harbor Marine
Museum. It is housed in the former light keeperís
dwelling adjacent to the 1871 lighthouse that is 60 feet
Metroparks operates Fairport Harbor Lakefront Park with a
first-rate swim beach. It is protected by a breakwall. The
park district offers sailing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle
boarding and jet skiing at the 21-acre park.
is $3 for out-of-county residents. Dogs are welcome on the
information, call 440-639-9972 (summer only) or go to