Some of our all-time best memories came from Punderson State Park, a 741-acre treasure in Newbury, Ohio. It started when our son was very young -- back when, given my husband's meager teacher's salary and our penchant for travel, we tried our hand as tent campers. No "candy campers" we; we slept in bags on the ground, and agreed that no string of flamingo-shaped lights would ever touch our small 8 by 10 canvas tent.
My husband and I still love looking through old photos we took at the park campgrounds, where we sometimes stayed for a week at a time once school ended and the warmth of summer made for comfortable nights. Punderson is particularly beautiful in the fall, though, when the scenery changes to deep, rich reds, oranges and yellows.
After our daughter was born, she joined the summer forays, although we finally gave up trying to squeeze all four of us in a single tent and purchased a small one just for the kids. As they got older, of course, they started to balk at having to spend so much time with their parents -- especially with no TV – so we pitched the tent concept. But to this day, the pictures of our 3-year-old daughter struggling to re-zip the tent -- complying with Mom’s rule that was intended to keep creepy critters out -- and the photos of her 7-year-old brother swinging, Tarzan-like, from the vines that hang from the trees surrounding the Punderson campground bring back happy memories.
Long after they, and we, had traded in the camping experience for indoor plumbing and HBO, Punderson has continued to play a part in our lives. Winter is no exception; on more than one occasion, our daughter was invited to accompany one of her school friends to the winter sports chalet area, where an outdoor lighted sled hill and an abundance of snow make for great tobogganing.
One fall, just as the leaves were shifting into gorgeous color mode, we gathered a group of close friends from the university branch campus where I worked and headed for a weekend in one of the 26 cabins nestled in the woods. We laughed ourselves silly, hiked some of the 14 miles of scenic hiking trails, paddled a rented canoe on the lake and completely rid ourselves of the stress that accompanies working full-time and trying to bring up two kids who have their heads on reasonably straight.
While we did a bit of cooking (each cabin has a fully furnished kitchens, a dining area and a screened-in porch), we decided we absolutely must have dinner at Punderson Manor, the stately 41-room English Tudor-style manor house that's said to be haunted. We saw no signs of ghosts, but we agreed the dinner was wonderful.
The manor house served a different purpose some years later -- this time as a crash pad the night after our now grown daughter's mid-August wedding. Both she and her older brother had, for some unknown reason, opted to get married on or as close to as possible, our own wedding date of Aug. 18 (she says she figured since the date had worked for us for 30-plus years, it couldn't hurt; our son says it simply meant fewer dates to remember).
In any event, we wanted to "celebrate" our anniversary and the fact that both our children were now out of our nest -- and recuperate from all the wedding brouhaha. The Punderson manor house came to mind immediately, and I'm happy to report we had a wonderful time once again.
The Cherry Dining Room is beautiful and the food is excellent here any time, but we’re especially fond of Sunday brunch, which includes carved prime rib, two entrees, a salad station, a breakfast and omelet bar and a dessert bar. For the record, the manor house is operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, not the state of Ohio.
Both the park and the lake are named for Lemuel Punderson, who, in 1808 -- five years after Ohio achieved statehood -- became Newbury Township's first permanent settler. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Punderson family developed a small estate on the edge of the lake, which later developed into a get-away area for folks in the nearby Cleveland area. Punderson Lake is one of the Buckeye State's few natural lakes, formed when a large block of ice broke off a glacier to create a depression that filled with meltwater.
The manor house, which has both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, was completed in 1948, when the department's Division of Wildlife purchased the land and lake for hunting and fishing. In 1951, the state Division of Parks and Recreation obtained the area to be developed as a state park.
The 196-site campground, located on the site of a former Indian village, includes shower houses, flush toilets and electricity (for the more rugged types, there's also a primitive camping area). In more recent years, golfers by the score have been tempted by the 18-hole championship-rated public golf course, which features a pro shop and snack bar. Meanwhile, fishing enthusiasts are welcome to try their hands at catching bluegill, largemouth bass, rainbow and golden trout and catfish in Punderson Lake and two nearby smaller lakes. Or, you can simply rent a canoe as we do (or bring your own) and paddle around at your leisure.
For those who might stay a night or two or more, there are plenty of side trips to be made once this park has been explored. Two other state parks – Nelson-Kennedy Ledges and Tinker’s Creek – are within easy driving distance. Southwest of Punderson is the popular Geauga Lake Family Amusement Park, worth an entire day in and of itself. History buffs might take a peek inside the Geauga County Historical Museum in nearby Burton and visit Century Village, a reconstruction of an 1800s village.
If you go:
Punderson State Park, 11755 Kinsman Road, Newbury, Ohio 44065-9684. Park office: (440) 564-2279; Lodge and cottage reservations: (800) 282-7275.