KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio (AP) — Lake Erie as we know it didn't exist around Kelleys Island — the lake's largest American island — when the Glacial Grooves were formed roughly 10,000 years ago.
"It was just a grassy, low marshy area," said Pat Hayes, president of the island's Audubon Club.
To Hayes and other island residents, Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve is one of Kelleys Island's Seven Treasures, with its soft limestone canvas of smooth waves, ridges, deep lines and jagged cracks worn into splintered sections along the 400-foot formation.
For visitors to the island, the grooves serve as a popular starting point as they take in Kelleys Island's other natural and historical attractions.
Varied theories exist on how the grooves were formed. Hayes said the most recent theory, put forth about 10 to 15 years ago, involves water rushing under a mile-high glacial wall of ice, snow and granite and carving the grooves out of the island's soft limestone.
Hayes stood next to a chain-link fence surrounding the grooves and described the formation, which he called the second most popular geological site in Ohio next to the Serpent Mounds in Adams County. The 40-foot-long grooves are 16 feet deep and 40 feet wide, with visitors able to view the geological formation from various angles along an elevated walkway.
Hayes said that early in the island's history, most of the grooves were quarried, burned to make lime, and sold for limestone. Since 1923, what remained at the site has been protected and maintained by various state protective agencies and groups, and is under management by the Ohio Historical Society, according to the Audubon Club.
Embedded and visible throughout the limestone are a number of fossils, Hayes said.
In 1972, a Bowling Green State University geologist and her team dug out the grooves with a backhoe and removed a buildup of glacial till that included gravel, clay and soil.
"When they got done with it, this whole section of grooves was like a polished granite of cemetery stone," Hayes said, calling it the best example of glacial strife in Ohio and possibly the United States.
Kiernan Sanders, the Kelleys Island Chamber of Commerce office manager, said someone comes to his office and asks about the grooves just about every day, with the geological preserve being the island's top natural attraction.
"I think it's really interesting that you can see history in action," Sanders said of the grooves.
Other popular island natural attractions include Inscription Rock, the Alvar habitat, Kelleys Island State Park, East Quarry and the Scheele Preserve.
Hayes said Inscription Rock, an enormous, 32-foot-by-21-foot limestone rock located off Lakeshore Drive, features carved inscriptions and petroglyphs estimated to be up to 500 years old, drawn the Erie Indians.
He said a lot of the inscriptions have been eroded away. The rock was moved by a glacier from one side of the island to its current location, where it now sits by a pavilion and deck area. Tree and barn swallows nest under the pavilion's eaves.
The East Quarry closed in 1943, with steel taken from the quarry to Cleveland to help the U.S. war effort during World War II, Hayes said.
Populated by rows of cedar trees and a shallow, 15-acre body of water, the quarry attracts many of the island's migratory birds of prey. Hayes said hawks and eagles will circle around above the quarry and look for food.
Hayes said the island also is well-known for its birding and the diverse migratory birds that flock to it in the spring and fall.
Sanders has worked in the chamber office since June. He had not seen the grooves or any of the island's other natural attractions before he started work on Kelleys Island.
Visitors often come from one of the ferries and ask him about the grooves, Sanders said, and are surprised to find out what else they can explore on the island.
Information from: The News-Messenger, http://www.thenews-messenger.com