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Wildlife Watching at Erie Bluffs State Park

Natural History

The site of Erie Bluffs State Park traces its origin to glacial advances and retreats associated with the last glacial stages of the Pleistocene period -- 11,000 years ago. The forces of this period shaped the Lake Erie basin and altered the region’s topography and drainage patterns.

Soil types typical of lake bed deposits and the relict dunes that characterize much of the site are associated with the higher water levels of ancient glacial lakes that preceded the present Lake Erie.

In modern times, the land and waters surrounding the area have been used for a variety of activities including logging, agriculture, and commercial fishing. A Boy Scout camp run by former owners of the U.S. Steel Company once flourished on site.

In 2004, the land was acquired by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy from Reliant Energy. The conservancy transferred the land to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to be managed by DCNR. On June 4, 2004, the area was officially established as Erie Bluffs State Park.

Within the boundaries of this biologically rich land, one can find a diversity of natural habitats ranging from:

  • Rocky-cobble shore
  • Tranquil creek corridors
  • Climax forest of rare and endangered plants
  • Steelhead fishery stream

The towering bluffs along the length of the park provide unique scenic vistas.

Sections of the park formerly used for agriculture are undergoing extensive restoration efforts to reclaim the black oak woodland/savanna and Great Lakes region sand barren ecosystems. Black oak savannas are relict lands formed thousands of years ago when the water levels of the Great Lakes were higher.

Savannas share characteristics of both prairie and forest ecosystems, in which widely spaced trees are mixed among sand barrens with sparse vegetation.

The diversity of landforms found in the park provide habitat for plant species rare or absent in other part of Pennsylvania -- the most unusual being the pumpkin ash and the Shumard oak. Wildflowers abound in the spring, while autumn brings an array of color to the landscape.

Many species of wildlife also reside in the park, including birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and insects, like:

  • Bald eagles soaring above the fields and lake
  • A large colony of bank swallows nesting in the bluff face
  • Steelhead -- a form of rainbow trout -- inhabit the cool water off the park shoreline and seek creeks for spawning in the fall
  • Fairy shrimp, wood frogs, and red-spotted newts live in seasonal woodland wetlands known as vernal pools

Lake Erie Bluff Face

One of the highlight features at the park is the scenic bluff face that overlooks Lake Erie. Wave action on the lake has created the bluffs that rise approximately 90 feet above the water.

The bluffs are receding at rates ranging from 0.75 to 3.82 feet annually as a result of continued exposure to wave action, weather, and groundwater movement.