PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio — There are just three miles of water separating South Bass Island from the mainland and Catawba Point — a span of only 5,280 yards.
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But for the many visitors to the Lake Erie islands who make this seasonal getaway their preferred port of call, covering that short distance amounts to traveling to a different world with no passport required.
On the island side, Julene Market considers it her family’s mission to take people to that water-wrapped outdoors paradise, and open the portal to the many recreation and relaxation options the islands present.
“It’s not just a boat ride,” said Market, who along with her brothers, Scott and Billy, operates the Miller Boat Line, transporting thousands of passengers to the islands every year.
“We’re selling the whole islands package. I believe that you have to sell the destination as well as the transportation, and in this case we have a lot of very attractive and interesting things to offer.”
Market considers the ferry service much more than simple transportation from one point to another. She touts the fresh air, clean water, stunning scenery, priceless sunsets, and the laid-back pace as the major calling cards the islands possess.
“She’s very much an ambassador for the islands,” said Dan Savage, director of the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society museum.
“She is sort of remarkable, very much like her mother was in that she has this deep love for the island and everything about this place. She’s a tireless promoter of the lake and the islands, and there’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm that goes into whatever she is involved with.”
Market and her family come to the table with a deep connection to the islands — her father was born on South Bass, and her mother was born on Isle St. George, more commonly known today as North Bass Island.
Julene’s father, William Market, had a prominent role in the operation of the ferry company for many years before he and his wife purchased the Miller Boat Line in 1978.
Market said her love for the islands — and her passion for promoting them — came directly down the line of inheritance from her parents.
“They were both very humble people, and they raised us to always remember where you’re from. They embodied that philosophy in many ways,” she said. “They were proud to be from the Lake Erie islands.”
For a long time, South Bass Island and the community of Put-in-Bay wore a “party” label, but Market said she has witnessed the island change significantly in her lifetime as the options available to visitors have expanded and become more family oriented.
The hotels, bars, restaurants, and live entertainment of island lore remain popular, but are now are joined on the menu by museums, wildlife watching, kayak and jet ski rentals, tremendous fishing opportunities, parasailing, cave tours, campsites on limestone bluffs, quaint bed and breakfast establishments, kids-centered amusements, sailboat races, a butterfly house, and a historic fish hatchery.
“Once you get here, there are just so many tangents that are available to experience and explore,” said the 58-year-old Market, who holds a degree in public relations and journalism from Kent State.
“Put-in-Bay has a deep tourism background that dates to the late 1800s, and I think it has become much more diverse and creative in recent years. There’s something to do for everyone.”
The rich and colorful history of the islands attracts many, Market said, and most come to see Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, which honors those who took part in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
This national park sits on a narrow strip of land in the center of South Bass Island, and its 352-foot Doric column is the dominant landmark.
Last summer’s bicentennial celebration of Perry’s defeat of the British fleet in waters near here brought tens of thousands of new visitors to the islands, and a special exhibit this summer at the Lake Erie Islands Historical Society museum features numerous artifacts and accounts from the islanders’ Civil War involvement.
The Miller Boat Line performs an essential role as the primary supply link to the island, transporting everything from fuel trucks to construction materials and grocery supplies.
But Market said she also sees the ferry line as providing that sidewalk or passageway that allows people to leave the stress of every-day life behind and escape to the wonders of the islands for a few hours, or a few days.
Once on the water, she said “an emotional signal” takes place, and visitors are soothed by the unique and scenic environment.
“We live in an absolutely beautiful place, and all of this water around us has such a magical ability to help people relax,” she said.
“When there’s something that wonderful, I feel like you need to share it with everyone.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.