Meet Middle Bass

Put-in-Bay has a reputation for fun, while Kelleys Island attracts nature lovers. But most people don’t know the smallest of Ohio’s big three islands. Whether you’re interested in camping, boating, biking or just relaxing, now is the time to finally
By David Searls
Meet Middle Bass
Photo: Lonz Winery, Main Dock, State Park Marina: Mike Gora; Eagle: Thinkstock/Stockbyte; JF Walleyes: courtesy of Chris Zeitler; Courtesy St. Hazards

Step off the ferry at Middle Bass Island and the first thing you notice is the tranquility. This is, after all, 850 acres of largely undeveloped land surrounded by water.

“It’s like paradise in Ohio here,” says Lori Ann Suglia, the owner of the Tiki Boutique gift shop on Middle Bass. “My 7-year-old can go anywhere.” If you want to relax, this is the place to do it. Fishing and bird watching are popular outdoor island pursuits. Bikes, which can be rented at the marina, are the best way to take it all in.

Chris Zeitler is the part owner of J.F. Walleyes Microbrewery and Eatery, one of the island’s two lively restaurant-bars. The island, he explains, changed directions after the July Fourth weekend in 2000. He gestures to the rambling structure that used to house Lonz Winery. Since it closed, following a tragic balcony collapse that killed one guest, the island has seen far fewer visitors. It’s quieter now, more relaxing.

The state bought the old winery, as well as 124 acres of land and a decrepit marina, in 2000. It became Middle Bass Island State Park in 2001.

The changes since then have been significant — and more are on the way. The marina is being expanded to hold 300 boats, and restrooms and showers have been added. Water and electricity are available on all slips, and there’s a putt-putt course for the kids.

The revamped marina is expected to draw boaters from the mainland as well as those Put-in-Bay visitors looking for a lull in the party, a quiet drink at sunset.

Though the winery has sat empty since the accident, the state park system has a million dollars set aside to restore the building, as soon as officials figure out the best use for it. A study is under way to examine potential uses.

This island is peaceful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be sociable. Between mid-spring and late fall, Middle Bass Island puts on its own show. Zeitler says breezes blowing in off the lake create “the world’s biggest air conditioner.” The Blue Lagoon, his landscaped patio and wading pool, crawls with drink-hoisting visitors in shorts, tank tops and flip-flops enjoying events such as Redneck Weekend in June and Nights in Havana in the autumn.

The fun continues at the Lake Erie Island Microbrewery at St. Hazard’s Resort in the middle of the island. There are brightly painted cottages, a lake-fronting condo complex and a modest strip of private beach. Live music and laughter fill the summer air.

So what if many of this island’s revelers bring their kids? They might respect early bedtimes here, but these folks still know how to get out.

Fewer than a hundred people call the island home year-round. The school system has eight kids who are flown to and from classes in Put-in-Bay. During the frozen, secluded winters, the most daring of young men go island hopping on snowmobiles. South Bass, after all, is only an icy half mile away. Pockets of condo development and private homes — some approaching seven figures — sprinkle the landscape, but there’s no congestion.

“It’s secluded and relaxed,” says Middle Bass Yacht Club member Barb Wolff. Terry Kuesel raves about the island’s “beautiful sunsets. The people are awesome. And it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to Put-in-Bay.”

The island also has a camper’s paradise — for those willing to rough it. The state park offers 20 “primitive” campsites, some of which are right on the beach. They feature fire rings and picnic tables and are for tent camping only. There is no water or electricity.

Asked to sum up the appeal of Middle Bass Island for vacationers, Zeitler says, “We’re where you want to go to escape the reality of living in the city. Go outside and play. Go enjoy nature. No Internet.” Then he adds that online service is actually available at his bar. “Satellite,” he explains.

It’s not that rustic out here.

Info to Go

Middle Bass Island is accessible by sea or by air. Miller Ferry in Catawba, Ohio, ( is the most popular mode of transportation. The ferry transports cars, bikes and individuals several times daily during the summer. The Sonny-S ferry line ( runs between Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island. The island’s two airports accommodate small planes and the new marina welcomes boaters. Find links to bed-and-breakfasts, rental homes, cottages and condos at Visit for info on the state park.

Your Day on Middle Bass

Opposite page,counter-clockwise from bottom right: If you arrive via ferry, your day begins at the island dock. If you’re the captain of your own day, it begins at the revamped marina, where day dockage starts at $15. Rent a bike at the marina and head for tiki fun at St. Hazard’s Resort, then swing by the Kuehnle Wildlife Area to check out the eagle’s nest. Unwind at J.F. Walleyes Microbrewery and Eatery with a splash in the lagoon or a drink at the bar. Lastly, check out the imposing shell of the former Lonz Winery. Want to stay overnight? The state park offers the rare opportunity to camp on the beach (not pictured).