Lake Erie was originally much larger than it is today. An eastern outlet via the Niagara River drained the lake down to its current size. Swamp lands adjacent to the shores were once part of the lake itself. Lake County, the state's smallest county, covers only 231 square miles yet its trademark one mile long natural sand beach is the largest in Ohio. Lake County, founded in 1840, was once a principal transportation route for Indians and frontiersmen. By the early 1800's, Fairport Harbor, Painesville, and Madison were major lakefront destinations. Nurseries, fishing, and ore unloading became mainstays commercially. The trademark beach, swamplands, nearby dunes to the west remained. Untouched and a nature preserve for wildlife, an idea in 1951-1952 preserved this lake jewel for future generations.
The state of Ohio began acquiring land in the Mentor, Painesville, Grand River, Fairport quadrant. Their goal was to create a state park. Opened in 1953, the park was named Painesville Beach State Park. Renamed Headlands Beach State Park in 1955, the beach attracted thousands of visitors from the start. By 1957, the park closed as waves and undertows carried too great a risk to the public. Locals swam in the creek that ran through before it too closed. 1967 saw a capital improvement campaign begin and the state park experienced a renaissance. The trademark one mile long natural sand beach remains intact. Still the largest beach in Ohio, Headlands Dunes and a State Nature Preserve are maintained by the park service. A 1.5 mile Buckeye hiking trail is available. A 0.4 mile fishing trail is open to sportsmen. The State Nature Preserve features unique plant life. Canadian wild-rye and wafer ash are species seldom found in NE Ohio. A federal breakwater is located on the far end of the beach. A 1925 lighthouse can be viewed up close. The beach is available for recreational purposes and some guarded swim areas are offered.
For those of you who remember Painesville State Beach Park, it is a part of your Lake County history. To those of us who only know 9601 Headlands Road as Headlands Beach State Park, you are now a part of the evolving history that is Lake County. The summer still remains, experience a new chapter in local lore as you visit Ohio's largest sand beach.