We got a quick glimpse of a few glacial grooves when we visited Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay in Ohio's Lake Erie Shores and Islands region. We've yet to visit the nearby Kelley's Island to see the Ohio's Glacial Grooves Memorial, but Jessie Voigts did and got a more detailed look at this geological feature. Learn about it from Jessie in this guest post!
Want to time travel…millions of years into the past? You can with the Glacial Grooves – the largest and most famous glacial grooves in the world – located on Kelleys Island on western Lake Erie, near Sandusky, Ohio just a few miles from the Canadian border. It’s a geological wonder that is a hidden treasure on this beautiful, interesting island.
The Glacial Grooves are located next to the Kelleys Island State Park campground and beach, on the north side of the island. Although workers quarried most of the grooves (and even sent some to the Smithsonian!), there are still many left to see.
In these remaining Glacial Grooves, you can see 18 different kinds of fossils, including horn coral, gastropods, and other marine invertebrates. Walk around the perimeter of the hundreds-of-feet-long fenced-in area, and see just how those glaciers carved the rock. When you look at the grooves, you can almost imagine the glacier moving deliberately across the landscape. Each groove has a purpose to it, a definition that comes from slow, steady carving and great weight of the glacier.
But I digress. First, a bit of history. Let’s step back 280 million years, to the Pleistocene Epoch, a period during which glaciers formed in Canada and pushed their way down to the northern US, including Ohio. The ice may have been up to a mile thick! About 20,000 years ago, a much more recent glacial movement occurred, with the Wisconsinan glacier moving through most of the Midwest. The movement of that ice sheet again caused great changes in the landscape. As the glacier moved through Ohio, it carved out deep grooves in the limestone rock on Kelleys Island.
The island’s more recent history includes its use by the US military as a post during the War of 1812. The state named the island for the Kelley brothers in 1840 in recognition for their development of quarries, logging, and wineries there.
The state moved to protect the Glacial Grooves in 1923 and it is a State Memorial Site.
Parking is available, and it is free to walk around and learn about the Glacial Grooves.
As you explore, you’ll see plaques with additional information about the sights before you. Start at the north side, where companies mined the limestone. The area is about 400 feet long, 35 feet wide and 10 feet deep. There is a walkway around it, stairs, and even a bridge over the grooves. Make sure to view the grooves from all angles, so you can get a sense of the power and scale of the glacier. It’s well worth a visit if you’re in northern Ohio and want to explore local geological history.
How to: Take the ferry from the Sandusky area to Kelleys Island (or take a small plane, or your own boat – there are several marinas). It’s the largest American island in Lake Erie, settled by the Erie Indians a thousand years ago as a refuge from the Iroquois. Now there are 312 full-time residents and 3,000 seasonal ones (plus over 8,000 visitors on summer weekends). You can drive your car if you brought it over on the car ferry, or you can rent a golf cart or bikes to cruise around the island. Bring a picnic, or dine at one of the island’s many restaurants. There are also other important archaeological and historic sites on the island – and more than a few lovely beaches.
Learn more at the Ohio History Connection or by checking out Glacial Systems and Landforms: A Virtual Interactive Experience by Ryan C. Bell or Kelleys Island 1877-1884 The fire, the Great Grooves, & a mysterious disappearance by Leslie Korenko.
Jessie Voigts is the publisher of WanderingEducators.com, and loves travel, eating, and coffee (they go together!). All photos courtesy and copyright Wandering Educators