Visiting boater finds paradise in Erie
By: Liz Allen
He comes for the water, stays for the music, lingers for Erie's other lovely amenities.
Meet Angelo Cellini, a retired government worker from Buffalo who makes his second home in Erie between May and October aboard his 35-foot boat, the Welcome Home II.
Angelo works out during the day, eats out at night and welcomes other sailors who dock at Wolverine Park Transient Marina at all hours. Maybe they'll share a bottle of wine. Maybe they'll just wave hello or goodbye. In any case, Angelo will make the newcomers feel at home in the marina, which is nestled in the West Basin and bounded by State Street, the Gem City Marina and Harbor View Miniature Golf.
"The point is, in my little way, I am stimulating the economy," says Angelo, as we talk aboard his boat, a Carver 326 motor yacht. He bought it in 2006 in Michigan City, Ind., and then piloted it to Erie the following year, fulfilling his dream to sail much of the Great Lakes.
On his way east, he stopped at several ports on Michigan's west side. "Holy mackerel!" he says about the beauty and convenience of those ports. "Everything was right there. I'm going to stay a few days," he decided back then.
The rest of his voyage was unremarkable, until U.S. Customs pulled him over to inspect his boat near Put-In-Bay, Ohio, so he berthed there. We know Put-in-Bay as the site of the Battle of Lake Erie but today it's a "drinking mecca," Angelo says. "That scene was not for me and my next fuel stop was Erie, Pennsylvania. Wow! This looks a little like all those ports on the western side of Michigan. I only stayed one or two days but I knew I wanted to come back."
I met Angelo thanks to Teresa and Eric Guerrein, who operate and manage Wolverine Park Marina on property owned by the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority. They also own Lakeshore Towing Services, which provides around-the-clock assistance to boaters in Pennsylvania waters on Lake Erie.
Teresa, 55, is telling her story because she worries that the two businesses she and her husband built might be forced to move when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation revamps the Bayfront Parkway.
PennDOT has suggested building a cap over State Street, to relieve congestion, improve walkability and connect pedestrians and bicyclists on the bayfront to Erie's downtown.
Thomas Bott, 49, an attorney from Pittsburgh, chats with Erie Guerrein, owner of Lakeshore Towing Services, at the Wolverine Park Transient Boat Marina, which Guerrein and his wife Theresa, also operate. "I'm like a municipal visitor center, I'm trying to promote Erie all the time," says Bott. "I think Erie is one of the best-kept secrets if you're into boats and water." Photo by Liz Allen
But creating pedestrian-friendly greenspace on top of State Street poses challenges: Where do you route vehicles traveling east and west and how do you get motorists to Dobbins Landing and its attractions, including the Sheraton Erie Bayfront Hotel?
One solution is to have vehicles drive through a tunnel under State Street, but it's likely the area would still need an access road to downtown and the bayfront. A new frontage road could gobble up the space now used for the miniature golf course and the Wolverine Park building, which also includes the Presque Isle Angler Bait and Tackle shop.
PennDOT is trying to balance competing needs and interests between "accessibility and mobility," Brian McNulty, assistant district executive for design for PennDOT's District 1, told a Port Authority study session on July 11.
At the meeting, Jim Foringer, district executive for District 1, stressed that PennDOT's plans for improving the Bayfront Parkway in the downtown area aren't final. Engineering studies have to be done and "there is definitely not enough money" yet for all of the possible changes to the parkway, he said.
The next steps will include more meetings with stakeholders, advisory committees and the public, he told me. "We're trying to not move the marina," he said.
Still, Teresa is concerned that the marina might be an afterthought as the Bayfront Parkway project moves forward, because many people don't even know that the marina exists or if they've seen it, they don't understand the function of a transient marina.
"We have been here 18 years and no one even knows we exist," she says.
When the marina opened in 2000, the facility was called The Moorings at Wolverine Park and Chandlery. But the name was misleading, she says. A mooring means you take a ball to anchor a boat and then take a dinghy into shore. A marina, in contrast, offers slips where boats, up to 100 feet in length, can tie up. Boaters pay a fee and have access to restrooms, showers and laundry facilities. They can also buy supplies — such as soap, toothpaste and sunblock — at the marina's shop.
"The mission of the Wolverine Park Transient Boat Marina is to lure boaters to stop in Port Erie, stay awhile and experience all that the Erie area has to offer," Teresa explains in a fact sheet she compiled about the marina and about Lakeshore Towing, which she and her husband incorporated in 1988. They've operated the transient marina since 2000.
Angelo is telling his story because he wants people to know that there are others like him — boaters who pump dollars into the local economy by patronizing small businesses on the bayfront and elsewhere. He knows the names of all the local and chain restaurants, as well as the local grocery stores.
Boaters don't just spend money. They also trade in the currency of word-of mouth — spreading the news that Erie is a great place to sail, fish, swim and explore a wealth of arts and culture offerings.
I'm telling Teresa and Angelo's stories because I always learn something new when I see Erie through someone else's eyes. Whether I'm ushering at an Erie SeaWolves' baseball game or cashiering at Pressed, the new independent bookstore, I pump out-of-towners for their impressions of our fair city. They always give glowing reviews.
But the closest I've come to identifying myself with the boating community is when I sign my summer guests up for free pontoon boat rides at the Presque Isle lagoons.
In fact, when I climbed aboard Angelo's boat to interview him, I wasn't even sure what to call our perch on the stern. I only knew that I envied this man and his daily routine, which starts with a cup of coffee, a bowl of Rice Krispies with banana or peaches and an English muffin with strawberry preserves.
"We older individuals have to get into some kind of habit," he says, as he shows me his list of things to do, which includes 8 Great Tuesdays and the upcoming Lake Erie Cyclefest.
Angelo keeps a car here, in case of an emergency, but he mostly rides his bicycle to get around — to the nearby Blasco Library, where he uses his non-resident library card for computer access; to Gannon University's Recreation and Wellness Center, where he uses his four-month "snowbird" pass to walk three miles on the treadmill every day; and to music venues around town. On the day we talked, he planned to attend the Highmark Mid-Day Art Break Concert at the Erie Art Museum.
But his day is hardly over at midday. He usually rides his bike to Presque Isle State Park and then circles the peninsula. He might stop to swim or to watch a beach volleyball game or, on Wednesdays, take in a UPMC Sunset Concert. Sometimes he kayaks with his brother at Presque Isle. Or he might take the boat out for a short ride to Noosa, the waterfront restaurant in North East. He frequently invites family and friends from Buffalo to visit Erie.
"You can't believe how many people I talk to and they're all tourists." He says Erie "is Niagara Falls, that's what it is."
Teresa says that it's not unusual for boaters to bring their bikes along. Boaters, it turns out, are among the much-coveted pedestrians that the movers and shakers want to see filling up downtown establishments and patronizing businesses in future waterfront developments.
"The best part of being downtown is that we are in the heart of things," Teresa says in her fact sheet. "Most of our transient boaters don't have vehicles, so being within walking distance to downtown and all its amenities is essential to our success. The free trolley service is very important to our customers, as are all the free concerts and events such as Roar on the Shore and CelebrateErie."
Angelo even credits his Erie connections for spurring him to take a bicycling vacation to the Chianti region of Italy last year. The itinerary required daily bike rides of 30 to 40 miles, with stops to eat and drink wine, of course.
Angelo's next-berth neighbor, Mary Garr, whose husband Ed is captain of the Lake Effect charter service, invited him to join a long bike ride with Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper that started in southern Erie County and ended at Voodoo Brewery in downtown Erie. Dahlkemper would "bike up to the front of the line and back to keep us together," he says. "Guess what? It prepared me for Italy."
He loved Italy so much that he's planning a return trip, this time to the Amelfi Coast. But make no mistake. He wouldn't trade his place in Erie for elsewhere.
"Everything here is a 'wow!' This is a paradise for a retiree," he says. And if he does need to escape? He'll pop in a movie borrowed from the library. Lately, he favors old black-and-white Humphrey Bogart films. "I just watched Key Largo," he says.
Liz Allen has never owned a boat but says that the two local sailing adventures she took, aboard the Lake Effect and the Momentum, were blissful. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation plans to make major changes to the Bayfront Parkway. One project will be to add signs to the east and west sides of parkway to alert motorists to traffic conditions and alternative routes. PennDOT also plans to add traffic-calming features on the east part of the parkway to improve safety.
Learn more about the PennDOT study and proposals to ease congestion and connect the bayfront to downtown and the bluffs by visiting www.bayfrontparkwaystudy.com.
Did you know?
Eric Guerrein, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, started Lakeshore Towing Services in February 1988, when he was 25. He designed his business to ease the demands on the Coast Guard to answer calls from non-emergency calls boaters, such as running out of gas or breaking down.
Today, the business employs 14 people, including Guerrein and his wife, Teresa. In addition to towing, the business does salvage work, builds docks and seawalls and offers dredging and commercial diving services.
The Guerreins also operate and manage the Wolverine Park Transient Boat Marina for the Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority. Boaters stay anywhere from one night to several months, and vessels have docked there from as far away as Alaska, California, Texas, Florida and, of course, Canada. Their destinations have included Mexico, the Caribbean and Cuba, according to the Guerreins. — Liz Allen