Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Michigan 101: Water Wonderland.

Where ever we move in Michigan a river or lake... or a Great not far away. The Department of Natural Resources reports there are over 11,000 lakes in the state! Above is a canal feeding into Cass Lake in Oakland County where my brother lives. A view of lilies on the canal is below.

My dad bought a cabin on Lake St. Helen, 2,400 acres big, seen below. Most of the land fronting the lake is undeveloped. Eagles can be seen regularly there.

When we lived in Lansing, Michigan we were a short few blocks from the Grand River, pictured below, which stretches from near Hillsdale, where we lived for seven years, to Grand Rapids--252 miles! Every year the city holds a day to clean up the river shore.

Of course Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes. My husband remembers taking a ferry from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula, and the excitement of the opening of  Big Mac bridge that now spans the Straits of Mackinac (Mac-en-aw), which is 5 miles wide.

For several years our family rented a cabin near Cheybogan on the Straits of Mackinac. We could walk a block to the shore and watch the freighters cruise by.

On that trip we took the Sunset Cruise under Big Mac. It was impressive!

Another year we rented a cabin in Tawas on Lake Huron. My husband's grandmother was born in Tawas.

Shipwrecks remains can be found along the Great Lakes. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is located near Alpena, MI on Lake Huron.

The Tawas Lighthouse.

My husband took our son camping in the Upper Peninsula while he was growing up. They visited Lake Superior. The scenery is spectacular! Shipwreck remains near the Hurricane River, Pictured Rocks and Miner's Castle along the coastline.

One of our favorite cabin rentals was on Lake Louise on Thumb Lake, site of a cottage community and a United Methodist church camp which my husband attended as a teenager. You drive through a deep woods to get there. The cabins are nestled in the trees so the shoreline looks natural.

For four years we lived a few blocks away from the White River and White Lake. They had a marina and the channel from the lake leads into Lake Michigan. In the early 20th c. the lake was badly polluted by a tannery. I have a 1966 Life magazine article on White Lake with piles of old hides still in the waters.While we lived there they were exploring ways to clean the polluted lake sediment.

The White River Lighthouse sat where the Channel from White Lake entered Lake Michigan.

When we lived in Norton Shores we were  just on the other side of a sand dune from Lake Michigan. A few blocks away, Mona Lake was dying because of the runoff from fertilizers used on the lawns of the houses along the lake shore. It is part of the Muskegon Watershed. The city of Muskegon is on Muskegon Lake, which covers 4,149 acres and feeds into Lake Michigan. It was one of the most polluted lakes, but starting in 1985 a massive clean up of polluted sentiment has brought it close to being taken off the Most Polluted list. 

We still live withing a few blocks of Lake Michigan, so close that we can hear the waves roar in high winds. Last October we went to the beach to take photos. The whipping sand was so bad, I was spitting out sand for a long while after we left.

During the summer thousands come to the bed and breakfasts, camping ground, marinas and cabins to enjoy the beach.

I was born near the Niagara River, which runs between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, interrupted by Niagara Falls. I grew up on Dad's motor boat.
When I was a girl Lake Erie was a dead lake and Niagara Falls frothed from phosphorus pollution in the water. In 1972 President Nixon signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement which set limits to pollutants dumped into the lakes. Huge progress was made in cleaning up the lakes. But the battle is ever going. Invasive species and new pollutants are always being introduced. Mercury in our fish. Algae blooms. Zebra mussels.

Today micro beads from cosmetics have been found in our Great Lakes. Thankfully, some of the cosmetic companies are already acting to phase out their use. But in the meantime the pollution continues. And this product never goes away. Micro beads are plastic and they are not biodegradable. No one knows what the impact of micro beads in the food chain means. It is the latest pollutant to threaten our water.

We can not relax in our diligence to keep our waters pure and clean. We each need to consider the choices we make. We can read labels to learn what is in the products we buy, and choose to use all natural ingredients. We can change our expectations, how we spend our money, and how we impact our environment. Our water and our air and the future of our children is in our hands, and our job as stewards of the earth is one of the most important responsibilities we have.


  1. A few years ago I camped at Houghton, MI. In a city campground where you backed your trailer in and fronted the lake, well actually it was a complete passage through the "thumb". Such a beautiful place! And the drive to the Copper light was gorgeous, not to mention the boat trip over. I should love to visit there again. I've been to Grand Rapids as well-on a flying trip to pick up a new puppy-but never to the beach! A beautiful place to live.

  2. I will never forget the first time I saw Houghton, MI. What a view coming into town! Copper Harbor I have seen twice. Wonderful.