Presque Isle’s Beach 11 beckons pop-up boating community

The popular shoreline at the state park can see dozens to hundr of boats at anchor on sunny summer days.

Ron Leonardi @ETNLeonardi

Buffalo resident John Welt knelt in the sand making sand castles with his 9-year-old granddaughter.

Welt’s 21-foot-long Monterey bowrider boat was anchored about 75 yards offshore from where Welt sculpted along a narrow strip of shoreline near Presque Isle State Park‘s Beach 11.

During his recent outing on a sunny afternoon, with temperatures in the 80s and a soft breeze blowing in from Lake Erie, Welt, 60, couldn’t think of a better way to spend a vacation day.

“I’ve been waiting for this kind of day to do this kind of thing,” said Welt, who enjoys boating and camping at the peninsula several times every summer. “The more you come here, the more you want to come back.”

Nearby, several other vessels were docked in the Beach 11 vicinity stretching along the shoreline to the North Pier.

On just about any beautiful summer day, and especially on weekends, a pop-up community of dozens of boats will congregate along the shoreline there in waters that are typically tranquil to enjoy a wave of summer fun and beach activities.

Jon DeMarco, executive director of the Presque Isle Partnership, knows that feeling.

“My parents have a power boat, and they typically come out here on weekends with a bunch of other boaters,” said DeMarco, who often accompanies his parents on their outings. “You get out here early, you pack a bunch of subs, nachos, pulled pork, whatever it’s going to be, and you just have a day on the water. It doesn’t feel like Erie.”

On days when boating traffic is light near the popular Beach 11 digs, “it feels like you’re on just your own kind of private beach somewhere,” DeMarco said. 

“The water is warm, and you kind of spend the whole day wading in the water,” he said. “You see a lot of stand-up paddleboards, a lot of kayakers, a lot of jet-skiing going on. It’s almost like you’re at an island resort in the Caribbean. That’s what it really feels like, and I think that’s why it’s a really popular thing for boaters to do in the summer.”

On weekends when the weather is spectacular, you may see a couple hundred boats anchored from the North Pier to Thompson Bay — sail boats, yachts, speed boats, fishing boats and personal watercraft.

“As long as the weather is conducive to good boating conditions, the public is here taking advantage of it,” said Steve Dunsmore, Lake Erie lifeguard manager at Presque Isle State Park. “It’s one of those things where you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature, and it hasn’t been nearly as hot as last summer, but the crowds have been well above what we’ve expected.”

On his recent Beach 11 outing, Welt and his granddaughter, Avery, made a variety of sand sculptures, while Welt’s wife, Deborah, 58, relaxed on their boat.

What brings Welt, a remodeling contractor, to Presque Isle beaches every year?

“You have the best beaches, the best sand, it’s kind of secluded and it’s quiet,” Welt said. “Your sand is incredible here. Usually this place is packed, but sometimes you want it to be quiet. There’s a lot of places to go, a lot of places to anchor your boat. You have 11 incredible beaches that are fantastic. We camp here a lot, too.”

When Welt waded out to his boat, the water was only waist deep.

“You can back your boat in and you can walk back and forth, and it’s great,” he said. “This is a good time, and it’s free. We’ll stay here all day, stop at Sara’s (Restaurant) for a bite to eat, and then drive home.”

About 75 yards south of where Welt was enjoying his day at the beach, Josh McCreary, 40, of Cleves, Ohio, pulled his fishing boat up along the shoreline and spent some beach time with his family.

“This is my first time up here,” McCreary said. 

His sons, Reed, 3, and Chase, 13, swam near the shoreline, skipped stones on the tranquil waters and played in the sand.

Earlier that day, McCreary and his family went fishing in Presque Isle Bay. They devoted their afternoon to a secluded stretch of sand near Beach 11.

“This is nice and quiet and it feels private,” McCreary said. “The people have been very friendly. I’ve been to places where people are not so nice to visitors.”

McCreary and his wife, Jamie, and their sons spent the past week vacationing in Erie from their southern Ohio residence.

“When you’re in your boat, you’re happy,” McCreary said with a laugh. “I’m not at work right now. You don’t have to worry about the waves and people running by. You can pull up to the beach and the kids can get out and play. It’s nice. I like it.”

Many Erie-area boaters who regularly congregate near Beach 11 get to know each other and develop and enjoy a camaraderie, DeMarco said. 

“It’s always like who has the coolest and neatest, newest thing,” DeMarco said. “You’ll see a lot of huge rafts that people will just hang out on and sunbathe.”

Some boaters who pull up near Beach 11 will wade to shore and throw a football or Frisbee. Others might sunbathe. You might see moms and dads playing with kids, or having a picnic on the beach, and lots of dogs swimming in the water.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” DeMarco said. “It’s a blast.”  

Ron Leonardi can be reached at 870-1680 or by email. Follow him on twitter at