Becky Linhardt

Kelleys Island students

Kelleys Island is both the largest American island on Lake Erie and also the town that covers the island’s entire 4.4 square miles of land. During summer, it’s one of Ohio’s most popular travel destinations, drawing upward of 250,000 visitors during the tourist season.

There is no bridge to Kelleys Island from the mainland, 5 miles away. Air service is available year-round — but only weather permitting. Kelleys Island Ferry Boat Line schedules service into late fall and resumes service in the spring, but some years, the lake ice can linger, and spring fog can cause flights and ferries to be canceled. It’s never a sure bet whether you can get on or off the island in a pinch. 

In the early 1900s, it was common for more than 1,000 residents to brave the conditions and stay the winter, but today that number is more like 100 to 150.

A monarch butterfly sits on a flower.

Kelleys Island residents welcome the return each spring of their “feathered tourists” — songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors that pass through on their way to Canada.

So it was a rather obvious decision for the island’s innkeepers to band together to create an event around it. “Nest with the Birds” began in the 1980s as a way to drum up some early-season bookings by offering guided hikes and migration-related programs for birdwatchers.

A picture of a fountain and buildings in Nelsonville

Some Nelsonville businesses worried that the new U.S. 33 bypass would take away business traffic. Now, a few years later, Nelsonville has become a destination instead of the  bottleneck it once was as drivers passed through this Athens County town. Few ever turned off the congested highway to explore Nelsonville’s picturesque downtown a few blocks away.