WHAT: At 12.3 acres, Nickel Plate Beach is Erie County's largest public swimming beach.
WHERE: The beach is located at Nickel Plate Drive's northern most point. The drive is off U.S. 6, just east of the Huron River.
WHEN: The beach is open daily from dawn to dusk. The beach is open to foot and bicycle traffic all year for free.
COST: There's a $5 daily per-car parking fee. Season passes are offered at $20 for city residents and $30 for everyone else. The money goes directly for beach improvements. Parking is free after Labor Day.
AMENITIES: Picnic shelter and tables, grills, benches, portable restrooms, beach volleyball courts, sand-based observation deck and playground equipment.
It was a picturesque day by the time Melvin Burkholder and his 13 family members showed up at Erie County's largest public beach.
The group traveled from Shiloh, more than an hour away, to partake in lakeside activities at the 12.3 acres of pristine waterfront at Nickel Plate Beach in Huron.
While the children played football in the sand, the parents chilled out in lawn chairs, enjoying a perfect view of the crashing waves. Later, they chowed down on juicy hamburgers they grilled at the beach's shelter.
"We like coming here," Burkholder said. "It's a nice place."
They aren't alone. Nickel Plate is fast becoming one of the most popular local lakefront destinations.
"Having access to the waterfront is part of our quality of life for residents," said Dawn Weinhardt, managing director at Lake Erie Shores & Islands tourism bureau. "It provides another activity for people to do, including visitors, for a minimal fee."
The beach's best feature is, arguably, its shoreline spanning several hundred feet.
"We have hundreds of cars come here on some days," said Doug Steinwart, Huron's operations manager for parks and recreations.
The drivers of all those cars help Huron officials maintain and improve the beach. Anyone who drives to Nickel Plate Beach must pay a parking fee when attending from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Huron officials don't charge for parking anytime outside this period.
On average, parking fees have generated about $30,000 a year over the past few years, according to city finance data.
It's the only public beach in Erie County requiring any sort of fee, but all the parking money is funneled right back to the parks and recreation budget, specifically for beach upgrades and maintenance.
Among the improvements in the past two years:
• Combing services, where workers use a machine to rake and clean the beach. The machine can even scoop up cigarette butts and bottle caps wedged underneath sand.
• Building a sand observation deck so people can view the water and lighthouse.
• Removing dying or dangerous trees and planting 15 new ones.
• Installing several new picnic tables and grills.
Steinwart envisions making several more improvements in the near future. He wants to add sewer and water lines so someone can build an on-site restroom shelter. Today, there are only portable restrooms at the beach.
Another enhancement coming soon: better beach access for handicap visitors and people with mobile disabilities.
For now, the recent enhancements seem to please the many Nickel Plate Beach-goers.
"I'm pretty impressed with how it looks," Steinwart said. "It's a positive feature that people can go to for a relatively inexpensive rate."