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Published: Sunday, 3/10/2013

NW Ohio is bustling staycation option with Maumee Bay, new casino

Newcomer realizes why locals call it the “Water Recreation Capital of the Midwest”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TOLEDO — I have lived in Northeast Ohio my entire life but had never thought to spend any time in the Toledo area.

But after a jam-packed, two-day press trip there in mid-August, I realized why locals call it the “Water Recreation Capital of the Midwest.”

Whether you're into nature, art, history or night life, Toledo has a surprisingly wide range of sights to see.

My companions and I started our trip by checking into the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center in Oregon, about 10 miles east of downtown Toledo on the shores of Lake Erie.

The resort

Opened in 1991, the lodge is Ohio's newest resort. Set in the midst of the 1,850-square-foot Maumee Bay State Park, it offers something to do all year long.

After renting personal watercrafts on one of the two sand beaches, we took a leisurely bicycle ride amid people in-line skating with their dogs (You can rent in-line skates from the lodge) around the resort grounds. A neat thing about their bikes is you can actually ride them on the beach, as well as the trails.

A large, lakeside amphitheater separates the two beaches. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the amphitheater has Saturday-night entertainment ranging from bands to magicians.

A large, inflatable slide is set up right on the beach for children.

Animal lovers can watch wildlife from the 2-mile boardwalk adjacent to the lodge, which also has the nearby Trautman Nature Center with wildlife feeding stations and exhibits. We enjoyed checking out the snakes, snapping turtles, spiny soft-shell turtles, northern leopard frogs, eastern American toads and — my favorite — the eastern screech owl.

On-site naturalists raise butterflies inside the Monarch Gazebo.

There are both indoor and outdoor pools (a new children's area has splash park fixtures), lighted tennis and basketball courts, a sand volleyball court, shuffleboard and horseshoes.

In addition, an 18-hole “Scottish links"-style golf course has a PGA-certified professional on staff.

In colder months, cross-country skiing, ice skating and sledding are recreational possibilities.

The lodge's 120 guest rooms all have a private balcony/patio.

Inside, guests can play wallyball (indoor volleyball) on hardwood courts. The new Children's Soft Play Area sports a pirate ship and oceanic atmosphere for kids.

We had several of the best meals we've ever eaten at the Water's Edge, a full-service continental cuisine restaurant with a glass wraparound view of Lake Erie. More casual restaurant options also are available there.

The Maumee Bay area was once known as the Great Black Swamp because of the color of the soil and dark shade under the trees. Native American tribes including the Ottawas and Wyandots settled on land beside the Maumee River.

The waterfront

After a well-rested first night in our room, we had breakfast and left for a private boat tour to the Toledo Harbor Lighthouse.

Built in 1904, the lighthouse is about five miles north of the lodge and marks the entrance to the Toledo Shipping Channel where Lake Erie and Maumee Bay meet.

Designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the four-story structure is 4,000 square feet and 64 feet high with brick architecture and a rolled edge steel roof.

The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse Preservation Society owns it and leases the original Fresnel lens — one of only three made. The lit prisms and glass make the light visible up to 16 miles.

We were excited because the plan was to tour the inside of the building. However, because of uncooperative north winds, our tour got canceled at the last minute. The society is working on a $1.5 million restoration of the structure, with hopes for completion in the next three or four years. Once it's complete, two couples will become lighthouse keepers, staying in the building from May through October to allow visitors to see it.

You also can see the lighthouse from the state park through a viewer.

After our relaxing boat ride, we enjoyed fresh tuna salad and other fresh catches for lunch at The Real Seafood Company, on the docks right on the Maumee River, to get up the strength for a busy day of sightseeing.

The entertainment

Our first stop was the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion. Opened in 2006, the post-modern glass pavilion houses the Museum of Art's world-renowned glass collection, with more than 7,000 pieces from ancient to contemporary times.

The 74,000-square-foot building has artist studios, special glass exhibitions, hot shop glass artist demonstrations and a theater. All exterior and most interior walls are made of large panels of curved glass.

The glass collection was started in 1922 by Libbey Glass founder Edward Libbey and his wife. Today, the Libbey Glass Company is one of the largest glass manufacturers in the United States. In 1888, Libbey moved the business from Massachusetts to Toledo, because of its large natural gas resources. After checking out the pavilion, our group was inspired to stop by the Libbey Glass Factory Outlet in Toledo to shop for inexpensive retail glass items.

Next stop: the Toledo Zoo, the region's No. 1 attraction.

The zoo has more than 9,000 animals representing more than 800 species.

We mainly hung out at the Arctic Encounter exhibit and African Savanna, where you can ride a train through the recreated plains and jungles of Africa.

Our final destination before heading back to the resort was the area's newest big attraction, Hollywood Casino Toledo, which opened May 29.

We were struck by how the casino really lived up to its name by conjuring up old Hollywood glamour. I usually find casinos outside of Las Vegas depressing, but not this one.

Games range in denominations from 1 cent to $100 on the 125,000-square-foot gaming floor. The smoke-free building has live entertainment, fine dining, more than 2,000 slot machines, 60 table games and a 20-table poker room.



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