Beachcombing in Ohio

Before we get to beachcombing, let’s talk about the beaches in Ohio. When we arrived, I was chagrined to find that most of the lake shore consists of low bluffs that drop 10-40 ft. to the lake. That means the shore is inaccessible or consists of cliffs in most places. Where you can access the shore, there is no sand! Beaches are usually gravelly. Bring your water shoes! How can beachcombing be a big deal when a) there are hardly any beaches, and b) they are rockslides, not beaches?

Only Ohioans know that beachcombing along the shore of Lake Erie is as rewarding as along any beach in the world. The basic equipment necessary for collecting beach glass here is simple. It’s a ziploc bag. Why? Because here in Ohio, everyone collects much smaller pieces of beach glass than anywhere else I’ve been. Some of the tiny bits will fall through a mesh pocket lining, hence the plastic bag. We’ve seen more people on the beaches, and I mean every, single, beach, than anywhere else in the world. I am speaking as a dedicated beachcomber, too. Honestly, more people visit every beach in Ohio, every day, than we’ve seen from Aruba to Australia. I’m impressed. Also daunted.

A rainbow of pottery that I found on Lake Erie beaches

When you look at Facebook sites dedicated to Lake Erie beachcombing (there is more than one), you see photos of all colors of glass. More blue glass can be found here than anywhere, and people show off lovely pieces of red, orange, and yellow glass that are rarely found anywhere. In comparison, I have one piece and three crumbs of red glass after six years of beachcombing. It is possible to find marbles along the shore here, too, though I have not found any red, yellow, orange glass, or a marble, in a month of looking. Along the shore of Lake Erie, some people swear by digging in the gravelly shore, others gather glass by visiting isolated beaches by kayak. There are lots of dedicated searchers, including one who posted a photo out his car window at six a.m. as he waited for the town park to open.

At dawn every day, beachcombers get going. By the time I take a stroll down to the tiny beach at the foot of 80+ stairs by our house, there are footprints from previous visitors. Fortunately, the Lake is constantly washing more bits and pieces up on the shore. Whenever I go for a walk on the beach I can find something.

Over the course of our month here, I have accumulated enough glass to begin making earrings and necklaces again. Our biggest haul came from the morning we spent at Edgewater Beach, just west of downtown Cleveland. When we arrived, I looked at the long, smooth shore and despaired of having driven more than an hour. As we walked, though, we found beach glass mixed in the crushed shells along the shore, in the sand, and washing up out of the lake. We came home with an excellent collection and far more than we collected anywhere else in a single visit.

Ohio, I salute you! There is no more avid group of beachcombers anywhere in the world. You may not have an ocean, but Lake Erie is the Mother of all Beach Glass.

A few seconds of Lake Erie waves

Where does all the beach glass come from? Cities including Cleveland disposed of their garbage in the lake for many years. Factories, too, used the lake as a trash can. A General Electric plant that made glass insulators is said to have emptied the leftover molten glass into the lake at the end of every shift. I collected pieces of this “black” (actually dark purple) glass to experiment with.

I believe there are people who put glass into Lake Erie to try and amplify the supply, but there would have to be a bargeload of glass dumped in every year to take the place of all that is collected.


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

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