When sailing ships first plied the waters of Lake Erie, they were guided safely on their way by a lighthouse perched on the westernmost point of West Sister Island. Keepers operated the light until 1937, when it became automated. Thanks to the Coast Guard, the lighthouse and the surrounding area are now part of the designated Wilderness of West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge, managed as a satellite of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.
This island Wilderness rises from the water to a not-very-high point of 35 feet. More than 75 percent of the land is shaded by 40- to 50-foot-tall hackberry, an almost pure stand. The upper reaches of the hackberry trees cradle more than 5,000 active nests that contain the eggs of great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, common egrets, and double-crested cormorants. A food shortage on the island sends these birds on an 18-mile round-trip flight to mainland marshes several times a day. Rock ledges along the island's shore provide sunning spots for many of West Sister's dense snake population. This island is strictly for the birds, and human visitors are not allowed to step ashore. You may cruise around the perimeter and view the inhabitants from a respectful distance. Don't forget your binoculars.
Closed Wilderness Area
Only a few wilderness areas are closed to access and use by the general public. Most of these closed areas are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The core mission of the Service's National Wildlife Refuge System is conservation of native fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. The West Sister Island Wilderness, part of the West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge, is closed to visitation to protect wildlife and other natural, cultural, and/or other resources consistent with the conservation purpose(s) of the refuge. Wilderness designation provides an additional level of protection for the wilderness portion of this refuge, but does not open the area to public access or use.
West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge wilderness area is located 9.5 miles offshore within the Western Basin of Lake Erie.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.