Meet Middle Bass
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.