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Take the plunge into maritime history and outdoor fun

As the only Pennsylvania port on the Great Lakes, the town of Erie serves as a key access point to the Great Lake that shares its name. With one of the world's best-protected harbors, Erie boasts extensive maritime history, natural beauty, culture and arts, year-round outdoor recreation, diverse ethnic heritage and first-rate sports teams.

Known for its seven miles of sandy beaches and unique ecological composition, Presque Isle (French for "almost an island") has been designated a National Natural Landmark. The park is a seven-mile peninsula that just out into Lake Erie, creating the largest natural harbor on the Great Lakes.

Take a tour of the 65,000-square-foot Tom Ridge Environmental Center, a "green" building that's known as the gateway to Presque Isle and is located at the park entrance. TREC, as it is commonly referred, creatively illustrates the history of Presque Isle through its interactive exhibits, the "Big Green Screen" large-format theater, 75-foot observation tower, interpretive panels, Sunset Cafe and Nature Shop.

Discover the park's endless stretch of sandy beaches, interior waterways and trails. Hike, bike or walk the nature trails, rent canoes or kayaks at the boat livery or fish from the shore or stream. Stop at the historic Presque Isle Lighthouse, Perry's Monument and Misery Bay to learn the historical significance of Presque Isle's role in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Or just relax on the beach with your picnic or watch the kite flying at Sunset Point. Narrated 90-minute scenic boat tours aboard the Lady Kate and free pontoon rides on the lagoons are unforgettable.

Discover Presque Isle Days, held the last weekend in July, featuring live music on the beach, a pancake breakfast, an arts and crafts show, outdoor activities and competitions, sand sculptures and bonfires.

Visit Asbury Woods and the Asbury Woods Nature Center, a 200-acre tract of wetlands, trails, forests, streams, fields and historic properties in Millcreek Township. In addition to hiking and mountain biking in the summer and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, Asbury Woods offers nature camps, themed hikes, gardening classes, children's classes and barn dances. Find out how more than 45 gallons of sap are processed to make one gallon of syrup when Asbury Woods Nature Center features its annual Maple Festival with historic production tours, a pancake breakfast and related entertainment the final weekend in March.

Explore the newly expanded LEED certified Erie Art Museum, which showcases a permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects, an outdoor sculpture garden, a gift shop and a new fully accessible entrance. Relax and enjoy lunch at the in-house Wave Café.

In September, during the Wine Country Harvest Festival, wine tasting, grape stomping and musical entertainment accompany a craft show, plenty of eats and winery tours. Eight Lake Erie Region wineries offer tasting and tours 12 months out of the year, including the Lake Erie Wine Country trail tour offered four times a year with wine specials and delicious food pairings.

Looking for a friendly farm country experience? Mason Farms Market is bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables picked daily. Browse through the beautiful greenhouses filled with an astounding array of seasonal color. At Fuhrman's Cider Mill, Bakery & General Store, savor freshly pressed apple cider and delicious baked goods made in-store. The old-time country store showcases a wide variety of local products. Tour and taste at Palakos Chocolates and savor their specially blended chocolate, a recipe handed down for four generations Dine at any one of Erie's downtown fine restaurants offering a treasure trove of tastes including Molly Brannigan's Irish Pub, The Pufferbelly Restaurant, Bertrand's Bistro and Smugglers Wharf.

Do you enjoy the mysterious and bizarre? Join Erie's Ghost and Legend Tour. Hear the legend of "Mad" Anthony Wayne, stand at the site of Erie's first and last execution, and walk the path of the city's deadliest natural disaster. Travel along historic West Sixth Street Historical District, also known as "Millionaire's Row," where an array of treasures awaits. Tour the Watson-Curtze Mansion, a historic museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. View the quality craftsmanship throughout the mansion, its wonderful, stained-glass windows, friezes, stone and marble work and beautiful woodwork.

For the more adventuresome, take a leisurely ride to the Battles Museums of Rural Life in Girard. Learn how to churn butter, bake bread, weave or spin yarn, quilt, weave baskets, press flowers or meander through the eight acres of woods and farmland at the countryside complex.

The woodcarved life-size Stations of the Cross at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Erie are so realistic that if one stands in the center of the church, it's easy to imagine witnessing the scene of the Christ's bitter passion and death. The "Way of the Cross" statues carved by Munich artists were restored in 2003 and complement the Irish-themed shrines and altars of the 100-year-old church.

Visit the Erie Maritime Museum to learn of Erie's rich maritime history and its role during the War of 1812 Battle of Lake Erie. Exhibits highlight multiple maritime and nautical themes from the early 1800s to present day, including the Flagship Niagara, Pennsylvania's official Great Lakes Ambassador.

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