Scott Carpenter remembers when it seemed the only living things in Lake Erie were waves crashing over the pier at Metzger Marsh as he raced to the light pole and back dodging and daring the waves to sweep him into the water.
That was the mid-70s.
Since then, Scott’s life has taken the usual turns. Various jobs. Marriage. Two kids. Through it all, however, the lake has been in his Oregon back yard and foremost on his mind. Especially, since it has become more vibrant than anyone could have dreamed of since the days fish suffocated and cormorants were born with double-bills. Now, Scott’s obsession has become his first book, Lake Erie Journal: Guide to the Official Lake Erie Circle Tour.
The book, published by Big River Press, is the outgrowth of a column Scott started here at The Press. It takes the reader through four states and one Canadian province. The 700-mile trip stops at large cities, wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries, casinos, islands, fishing grounds and Niagara Falls. Featured in its 308 pages are descriptions of the usual attractions—Point Pelee, Cedar Point and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as well as the unusual— The Great Lakes Museum, a stop on the Underground Railroad and Misery Bay. Enough variety for day trips, side trips, week-end trips and week-long vacations.
Naturally, there’s the expected stop in Scott’s hometown and the Lake Erie marshes. But, unexpected is how outsiders view our backyard.
“The most interesting reactions I get are close to home from people who live far away. They appreciate what we have more than we do. At places like Magee Marsh, you can run into birders at 7:00 on a Sunday morning from all over the state and Michigan.
“It’s amazing. On Palm Sunday, there were cars from a dozen Ohio counties and six Michigan plates. I don’t know if people around here realize what we have,” he said.
“ Lake Erie’s time has come for the national spotlight. We’ve been written about for years as the Walleye Capital of the World. We still are. Now, also, we’re perhaps the smallmouth bass capital of North America. And, there’s no question that in the Magee Marsh-Crane Creek-Ottawa Wildlife Refuge complex we’ve got one of the premier birding locations in North America. All of these things are getting national recognition,” he added.
To give you an idea of our popularity, Scott tells the story of a noted ornithologist. On his most memorable day visiting Lake Erie, the birder saw a Kirtland Warbler at Magee Marsh. The endangered warbler is indigenous to just a few counties in Northern Michigan and winters in the Caribbean. But, for three days, this warbler rested at Magee. On one of those days, the ornithologist counted 1,800 birders who came to view it.
Stories like this gave Scott the idea to write about the Lake Erie Circle Tour while editor of this paper. He started in 1994 with a fishing column called Lake Erie Journal, but he discovered some thing after a few columns.
“I didn’t know squat about fishing and I realized pretty quickly I was more interested in the lake in general,” he said.
Job changes took Scott to Port Clinton, Fremont and Toledo where he now works as information officer for The MetroParks. But, in his free time, he explored the circle tour. So did his family. There were camping vacations with his wife, Beth, and two daughters and a week-long trip with a cousin. There were solo day and weekend trips. And, finally, after six years of traveling, writing and searching for a publisher, Scott succeeded.
In that time, he met only one other person following the tour. He hopes his book inspires others to share his bliss.
From his inauspicious start as a fishing columnist, Scott has evolved into an award-winning outdoor writer whose features on the lake have appeared in numerous publications.
His cagey response—something about birding. Or, heritage tourism. Or, the Lake Erie Islands.
Whatever, you can bet it’ll be on Lake Erie. As a child, Scott was fascinated by the lake’s unpredictable power as he raced from the waves crashing on Metzger’s pier. As an adult, he is equally fascinated by the evolving character of a lake that has, by his own admission, become his obsession.