The North Shore Loop Trail is an easy one-mile hiking and biking trail that leads to one of Kelleys Island’s most unique treasures – the rare alvar habitat along the northern shore of the island. The entrance to the trail is located right off of the turnaround loop for the boat ramp parking lot, just a few minutes north of the Glacial Grooves and the sandy State Park Beach. This trail will take you through woodlands, past ruins from the island’s quarrying history, and out onto to the North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve.
An alvar is a biological environment based on a limestone plain with very thin soil and sparse grassland vegetation. They were once thought of as barren, but are now known to contain numerous and distinctive plants and animals. The formation of soil and resulting growth of woody plants are hampered by drought induced by the porous bedrock. Alvars are subject to constant scouring by waves and ice and temperature extremes. Globally rare, there are about 120 alvar sites across the Great Lakes region. Elsewhere in the world, alvars are found in the Baltic region of Europe or Estonia and on islands off the coast of Sweden.
The North Shore Alvar State Nature Preserve is the best-preserved intact alvar habitat in Ohio. It is home to state-endangered northern bog violet, which in Ohio only grows on the Lake Erie islands; showy orange lichen, squaw weed; other distinctive plants and uncommon wildflowers; as well as mosses, lichens, and many varieties of grasses, sedges and some stunted trees. Glacial striations and scrapings are visible on the rock surfaces that make up the shoreline. Many species of bird have been spotted from the alvar, and the endangered Lake Erie watersnake can commonly be seen swimming in the waves or hiding in the cracks of the limestone cliffs.