Treasure Hunting on Lake Erie

After a particularly vicious storm on Sunday (you know, the one I where stood outside watching the lightening?), Mom and I spent the following day hunting for sea glass along the shores of Lake Erie at Woodlawn and Hamburg Town beaches. Together, we came away with over 700 new pieces, plus a few interesting rocks and fossils, shells, ceramic tiles, and one dinosaur. That was Mom’s — the dinosaur. Something about abandoned toys really freaks me out, especially when they’re floating in the water, so I leave the creepy stuff to her and stick with what I know.

Lake Erie Gems

Looking for sea glass requires patience and skill — it’s generally quite small and can be hard to spot among similarly colored rocks, shells, leaves, things that crawl, and other lakeside debris. No matter how many times Mom and I walked back and forth over the same stretch of beach, heads down, eyes trained on the thin spread of rocks where the water meets the sand, we continued to find pieces that we’d overlooked just moments earlier. Often, we’d catch a shimmer in the wet sand as the tide pulled back the lake like a skirt, only to lose sight of it as the water again rushed forward. Other times, we’d spot a brightly colored blue or red square a few paces ahead only to scoop up a piece of old plastic. There’s also the tricky matter of avoiding fish bones and litter and separating genuine lake-aged glass from the just-broken bottle shards of last night’s party crowd. Dangerous work, for sure.

Despite the obstacles, the long search is always worth the effort. Genuine beach glass uncovered as easily as something plucked form a store shelf wouldn’t hold such mystery, like the rare red glass in TWENTY BOY SUMMER, or the amber glass largely created not by our modern beer bottles as I once thought, but by Prohibition-era rumrunners who smuggled cases of booze from Canada into Buffalo, dumping bottles in the lake whenever the police got too close.


As we continued our treasure hunt, girls chatted on blankets in the sand despite the post-storm chill and thrillseekers braved the choppy, muddy water to windsurf and kiteboard. On one beach, a bulldozer beeped and roared along the waterfront, clearing tree branches and other debris that washed ashore in Sunday’s rain. Not far from where the waves nipped at our toes, the windmills from Lackawana’s urban wind farm towered in the sky, shooting up like trees from the industrial remnants of the Bethlehem Steel plant.

Lackawanna Windmills

Here in the southtowns of Buffalo, despite greening efforts like the Lackawanna wind farm, a storm like Sunday’s is enough to flood area waterways and contaminate the lake, and swimming is still forbidden on certain beaches for the entire season due to pollution.


Oil Change


Still, for our walk up and down the shore, the sun shone warm on our backs and the rush of the wind-tossed waves dulled the sounds of civilization. As we combed the sand for hidden gems, it was enough just to be there, to hear the seagulls call to one another across the sky as we dropped tiny bits of amber and kelly green and aqua and white into our bags and wandered along the beach in search of more, a never-ending quest to unearth the buried treasures of the lake.

Treasures of Lake Erie

9 thoughts on “Treasure Hunting on Lake Erie

  1. Wow! You got a lot of good sea glass πŸ™‚

    I live in Silver Creek and we got major flood-age….ick! I can’t believe you stood outside and watched the lightning though, I made sure I was safely indoors hehe

    • Oh, I heard Silver Creek and other areas west and south got slammed. Hope everything is okay! I was visiting my parents up in Colden – on top of a hill. Even so, they got quite a bit of water, too. Then last night it was too overcast to watch the meteor shower.

    • Sometimes it’s hit or miss. I met a reader recently who found huge, beautiful pieces in Nova Scotia, but sometimes there’s nothing. Last year in MV I found one piece in 8 days, but a few years earlier, I found hundreds. Don’t give up hope! πŸ™‚

  2. I used to find sea glass and shells all of the time when I was a kid but I rarely see any now.
    Oops, should have mentioned good post! Waiting on your next post!

  3. I have never found ‘real’ sea glass, of course I only get the the beach about once every year or two πŸ™‚ It is beautiful.

  4. I have been carving cottonwood bark for a few years and just started collecting sea/lake glass this past summer. I live, carve, and collect glass on the North shore of Lake Superior but so far I have only found a few, but I will continue!

    • It’s definitely getting harder to find, but sometimes it’s easier in the off season, like late fall and early spring, when there are fewer people on the beach. Good luck with your collection!

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