Know Ohio: All About Erie

Today we’re gonna take a dive into one of Ohio’s most treasured natural resources: our own Great Lake -- Erie! Ohio’s North Coast is a great place to swim, fish, and sail – and it’s also part of the reason Cleveland and Toledo exist, as the waterway connects these cities to other large cities. And, in the 1800s, before planes, trains, and automobiles, ships and boats were the fastest and most efficient mode of transportation. Even today, Lake Erie provides an important shipping route, which spans all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes, which as a whole, contain the largest supply of freshwater on the planet. In fact, 90% of the fresh water in the United States is located in these five lakes.

But they weren’t always so splashy! Twenty thousand years ago these lakes looked like this. Mind you, it was the Ice Age, so much of the northern United States and Canada were covered in these large chunks of ice, called glaciers. And, when I say large I mean huge. The glacier that formed the Great Lakes was two miles thick…Key Tower, Cleveland’s tallest building, would have been dwarfed by this massive glacier!

As the Ice Age came to an end, and things started warming up, the glaciers spent over 10,000 years melting into what are now the Great Lakes. Lake Erie, as the southernmost lake, was the first one formed. 

Its spooky name comes from some of the earliest human inhabitants along its shores. The Erie people were Native Americans, who farmed and hunted among fearsome predators like Mountain Lions. In their native tongue, Erie is short for Erielhonan, which means roughly “long tail,” a reference to the wild cats they lived among. 

As White settlers arrived and cities around the lake grew, unregulated industries began polluting the lake. The pollution became so bad that in the 1960’s environmental activists even declared the lake “dead.” Since then, the U.S. government stepped in to stop the pollution, by passing the Clean Water Act.

Although the lake still struggles with a man-made algae problem, it’s come back to life! Which is a good thing, considering over 11 million people now get their drinking water from Lake Erie.

Instructional Links

Primary Sources & Video: Cleveland Historical, Lake Erie

Website Article & Timeline: Ohio Department of Natural Resources: Lake Erie Facts & History

Video: North American Geoquest Series, Great Lakes Region

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