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Published: 8/26/2012

Press tour for visitors is eye-opening for an area resident

BY MARY ALICE POWELL
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

It was exciting Monday to watch seven travel writers take hundreds of photos and write copious notes on their first visit to Toledo and its environs.

As I shared the scheduled stops that prompted oohs and ahhs and "I had no idea" comments, I wondered why I waited for such an invitation before making an effort to visit places that are in my own backyard. Why did it take an organized trip to take me to the historical Toledo Harbor Lighthouse? And, why haven't I joined the crowds at the Toledo Zoo or found the time to visit the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion and view its stunning displays of glass?

A better question is why I search for the perfect hotel or motel in my frequent travels when the Maumee Bay State lodge is nearby, beautiful, and offers everything a traveler needs, especially recreational opportunities from swimming to tennis and walking trails.

Ohio state parks were the focus of the travel writers' agenda that brought visitors from Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan. Maumee Bay State Park was the first park on the list for the press trip, with general manager Patrick Czarny as our host. On a golf cart tour covering some of the 1,850 acres of the park on the Lake Erie waterfront, Mr. Czarny pointed to several of the highlights that attract families, including beaches, jet skis, campgrounds, large self-sufficient cottages, rental bicycles, and an inflatable tube at the beach.

A Toledo cheerleader since he came to this area to manage the Maumee Bay property 21 years ago, Mr. Czarny let the writers know that they were lucky to be in Toledo as he drove the van from place to place and narrated when we passed through the Old West End and down Broadway where colorful new artwork can be seen on some of the old structures.

"I grew up in Vermont, lived in Dallas and Utah, and worked in Yellowstone Park, but I love Toledo," Mr. Czarny said. "We have everything here. We have all the conveniences you would want for a large city, and yet we are close enough to enjoy the natural beauty of the countryside."

I was ashamed to admit that I can't remember the last time I visited the zoo. I had forgotten what a wonderful place it is for a leisurely walk through both the old and new parts and to study the animals. Though little Lucas, the 1-year-old elephant, was available to pose for pictures, the giraffes and the polar bears remain my favorites. Just for the record, the Christmas light spectacular will open Nov. 16.

We were not able to get inside the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse because Lake Erie was too choppy. But that only means that at a future time, maybe even this weekend, I can brave the ladder to get into the building that is owned and cared for by the Toledo Harbor Preservation Society.

Sandy Bihn, society president who spearheaded the preservation in 2007, joined our group as we rode in Capt. Russ Merrihew's charter fishing boat, the Reel Affair, five miles from the Maumee lodge to the lighthouse and then to downtown Toledo and the Docks for lunch.

Lunch with Rich Nachazel, president of the Destination Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, and his staff began with a tasting of seafood appetizers, including crab cakes and calamari.

I insisted rather sternly that the out-of-state writers try Lake Erie yellow perch, preferably sauteed and with a side of the blue cheese slaw.

Back at the lodge for dinner, Chef Monica Jazwiecki kept the seafood theme with a clam bake and a tantalizing watermelon goat cheese salad with a citrus dressing. The young chef worked in a restaurant while she was studying to be a teacher. "Then one day I decided I don't want to teach school, I want to cook." She has been at Maumee Bay State Park for five years.

Her best testimony to her love of cooking came last May when she prepared all the food for 275 guests for her wedding dinner.

I waved goodbye to the writers as they continued their Ohio visit to Mohican State Park Lodge and Punderson State Park, knowing in my heart they had already seen and tasted the best.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.



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