A look inside the rock: Put-in-Bay's Gibraltar Island

GIBRALTAR ISLAND Tourists and residents alike barely glance at Gibraltar Island on their boat ride to Put-In-Bay. Yet
May 24, 2010



Tourists and residents alike barely glance at Gibraltar Island on their boat ride to Put-In-Bay.

Yet if visitors take a second look -- or tour -- they will discover the island across the channel from Put-In-Bay can give them a glimpse of history and science.

Maryanna Carney, 66, of Elyria, came with a group of friends to find out what the mysterious island had to offer.

"It's so remote, kind of natural," Carney said. "You feel like you're in a little time capsule of a period gone by."

Carney went on The Science and History Tour of Gibraltar Island Wednesday. The two-hour tour includes a one-hour walking tour of the island, and the second hour focuses on Lake Erie research conducted by Stone Laboratory, located on the island.

The walking tour features an outside look at Cooke Castle, a 15-room Victorian house. Jay Cooke, a Civil War financier and third private owner of Gibraltar Island, erected the home in 1865. Since the castle has significant water damage and asbestos, tours are limited to an outside view of the structure.

It would take about $5 million to renovate the aging castle, said Jim Park, tour guide and laboratory assistant for Stone Laboratory.

The Ohio State University, which purchased the island in 1925, plans to establish the castle as a conference center if enough funds can be raised, Park said.

Next to the castle, visitors will see the original cornerstone for Perry's Victory Monument. Perry's Cornerstone was constructed in 1863 on Gibraltar Island, where the monument was originally going to be built, Park said.

Perry's Lookout takes visitors back to the moment when Commodore Perry watched for the British Fleet before the War of 1812's Battle of Lake Erie. The battle took place west of Rattlesnake Island.

The second portion of the tour is a sit-down presentation of Lake Erie research at OSU's Stone Laboratory.

John Hageman, laboratory manager, presented magnified images of a drop of Lake Erie water.

On the screen, visitors can see microscopic versions of green algae, walleye larvae and zebra mussels.

Chris Rettig, 56, Cleveland, considers herself an outdoors person and said she appreciates the laboratory's attempts to educate the public.

"It was interesting to see how teeny tiny they were on the microscope," Rettig said.

Zebra mussels, Chinese mitten crabs and sea lamprey -- all exotic species -- are wreaking havoc on native fish and other species in Lake Erie, Hageman said.

The dead zone -- a region of Lake Erie with low-oxygen levels -- also presents a challenge to local wildlife.

"One fifth of the world's fresh water supply is in the Great Lakes," Hageman said. "We need to protect it."

The Stone Laboratory holds the tours once a week from June 20-Aug. 15. The island sees about five to 50 people each tour and is the busiest in July, Hageman said.

This year marks the fourth summer the tour has been conducted.

High school, undergraduate and graduate students can attend class throughout the summer. Proceeds from the tour support Stone Laboratory student scholarships.

For more information about the tour or classes, visit www.stonelab.osu.edu.

Tour Info

*What - Science and History Tour of Gibraltar Island

*When - Wednesdays only through Aug. 15 (includes July 4th)

*Time - 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

*Cost - Adults $10, Children $5

*Food - Lunch can be ordered at time of arrival for $8

*Why - Proceeds support Stone Laboratory student scholarships

How to get there

*Jet Express to Put-In-Bay

-from Port Clinton - 8:45 a.m. boat - $24 round-trip (adult)

-from Sandusky - 9 a.m. boat - $32 round trip (adult)

*Miller Boat Line (from Catawba Island) to Put-In-Bay - 6:30-10:30 a.m. boats - $12 round-trip (adult)

*Put-In-Bay to Gibraltar Island - the water taxi from The Boardwalk restaurant - $4 round-trip