Lake Michigan

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Lake Michigan.jpg

The only one of the five Great Lakes of North America that is located entirely within the United States is Lake Michigan. The other four Great Lakes are shared by the US and Canada. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume [1] and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia). The wide Straits of Mackinac to the east of Lake Michigan conjoin it with Lake Huron, giving it the same surface elevation as its easterly counterpart; the two are technically a single lake. The states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan form the boundaries of Lake Michigan. The word "Michigan" originally referred to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa word mishigami meaning "great water".[2]

History[edit | edit source]

Some of the earliest known human inhabitants of the Lake Michigan region were the Hopewell Indians. Their culture declined after 800 AD, and later was the home of peoples known as the Late Woodland Indians. It was in the early seventeenth century that western European explorers came to the region. The people they encountered were descendants of the Late Woodland Indians: the Chippewa, Menominee, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi.[3]  

Woodland indian camp.jpg

The first Europeans to see Lake Michigan were French traders and explorers in the 1600's, one of which called Lake Michigan the Grand Lac. Later it would also be called by the names: "Lac Dauphin", "Lake of the Stinking Water", and "Lake of the Puants" c. 1670. (The Winnebago Indians were called Puans by the French explorers.) On a 1688 map, Lake Michigan is called Lac des Illinois. An Indian name for Lake Michigan was "Michi gami" and through further interaction with the Indians, the lake received its final name of Michigan.[4]

In the late 17th century, the Europeans would use Lake Michigan as part of a series of waterways to travel between the Saint Lawrence River and the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico. The French established small ports and trading communities, such as Green Bay, on the lake during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Geography[edit | edit source]

Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes wholly within the borders of the United States; the others are shared with Canada. It has a surface area of 22,300 square miles (58,000 km2),making it the largest lake entirely within one country by surface area (Lake Baikal, in Russia, is larger by water volume), and the fifth largest lake in the world. It is 307 miles (494 km) long by 118 miles (190 km) wide with a shoreline 1,640 miles (2,640 km) long. The lake's average depth is 46 fathoms 3 feet (279 ft; 85 m), while its greatest depth is 153 fathoms 5 feet (923 ft; 281 m). It contains a volume of 1,180 cubic miles (4,918 km³) of water. Hydrologically it forms a single body of water with Lake Huron, the whole being called Lake Michigan–Huron; the two sides are connected through the Straits of Mackinac and share an average surface elevation of 577 feet (176 m).[5]

Cities[edit | edit source]

Twelve million people live along Lake Michigan's shores, mainly in the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. Many small cities in Northern Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin are centered on a tourist base that take advantage of the beauty and recreational opportunities offered by Lake Michigan.

These cities have large seasonal populations that arrive from the nearby urban areas such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Detroit, as well as from Southern states, such as Florida and Texas. Some seasonal residents have summer homes along the waterfront and return home for the winter.

The southern tip of the lake near Gary, Indiana is heavily industrialized. 

Connection to Ocean and Open Water[edit | edit source]

The Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes Waterway opened the Great Lakes to ocean-going vessels. Wider ocean-going container ships do not fit through the locks on these routes which limits shipping on the lakes. Large sections of the Great Lakes do freeze in winter, interrupting most shipping. Icebreakers are used in some areas on the lakes.

The Great Lakes are also connected by canal to the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois River (from Chicago) and the Mississippi River. An alternate route is via the Illinois River (from Chicago), to the Mississippi, up the Ohio, and then through the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterwa, to Mobile Bay and the Gulf. Commercial tug-and-barge traffic on these waterways is heavy.

Pleasure boats can also enter or exit the Great Lakes by way of the Erie Canal and Hudson River in New York. The Erie Canal connects to the Great Lakes at the east end of Lake Erie at Buffalo, NY and at the south side of Lake Ontario at Oswego, NY.

Beaches[edit | edit source]

Montrose Beach Chicago.jpg

Lake Michigan has many beaches, and is often referred to as the "Third Coast" of the United States (the others being the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean).  

The sand dunes located on the Michigan shore are the largest freshwater dune system in the world. In many locations the dunes rise several hundred feet above the Lake surface. Large dune formations can be seen in many state parks, national forests and national parks along the Indiana and Michigan shoreline.

The Great Lakes Circle Tours are designated scenic road systems connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. More information about them can be found at the Michigan Highway website:

Car Ferries[edit | edit source]

The Lake Express, established in 2004, carries motorists across the lake between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan. People can also cross the lake by the SS Badger, a ferry that runs from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan.

Islands[edit | edit source]

Lake Michigan has numerous islands within it's bounds, some large and many small. The following is a list of these islands.

Lake michigan islands and lighthouse.jpg
The Beaver Island archipelago in Charlevoix County, Michigan, includes Beaver Island, Garden Island, Grape Island, Gull Island, Hat Island, High Island, Hog Island, Horseshoe Island, Little Island, Pismire Island, Shoe Island, Squaw Island, Trout Island, and Whiskey Island.

The Fox Islands in Leelanau County, Michigan, consist of North Fox Island and South Fox Island.

The Manitou Islands, North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island, are in Leelanau County, Michigan.

Islands within Grand Traverse Bay include Bassett Island, Bellow Island, and Marion Island.

Islands south of the Garden Peninsula in Delta County, Michigan include Gravelly Island, Gull Island, Little Gull Island, Little Summer Island, Poverty Island, Rocky Island, St. Martin Island, and Summer Island.

Islands in Big Bay de Noc in Delta County, Michigan include Round Island, Saint Vital Island, and Snake Island.

Islands in Little Bay de Noc in Delta County, Michigan include Butlers Island and Sand Island.

Wilderness State Park in Emmet County, Michigan contains Temperance Island and Waugoshance Island.

Epoufette Island, Gravel Island, Little Hog Island, and Naubinway Island are located in Mackinac County, Michigan, in the area of Epoufette, Michigan and Naubinway, Michigan.

Green Island and St. Helena Island are in the vicinity of the Mackinac Bridge, in Mackinac County, Michigan.

Islands surrounding the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin include Chambers Island, Detroit Island, Hog Island, Pilot Island, Plum Island, Rock Island, and Washington Island. The northern half of the peninsula is technically an island itself, due to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.

Northerly Island is a 91-acre (37 ha) man-made island in Chicago. It is the home of the Adler Planetarium, the former site of Meigs Field, and the current site of the temporary concert venue Charter One Pavilion each summer.

Other islands included Fisherman Island in Charlevoix County, Michigan and Ile aux Galets in Emmet County, Michigan.

Parks[edit | edit source]

Platte flowing into lake michigan.jpg

Within the lake there are a number of state and local parks located on the shore or upon the islands. The National Park Service maintains the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The Platte River flows into Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The shallow, sandy bottom of the riverbed makes it fun for tubing.

Parts of the shoreline are within the Hiawatha National Forest and the Manistee National Forest. The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness is located within a section of the Manistee National Forest. The Lake Michigan division of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is also within the lake.

A partial list follows.
Chicago's North Avenue Beach, Lincoln Park
Lake Michigan from Portage, Indiana
Chicago Park District Beaches
Duck Lake State Park
Fayette Historic State Park
Fisherman's Island State Park
Grand Haven State Park
Grand Mere State Park
Harrington Beach State Park
Holland State Park
Hoffmaster State Park
Illinois Beach State Park
Indian Lake State Park
Indiana Dunes State Park
Ludington State Park
Leelanau State Park
Mears State Park
Muskegon State Park
Newport State Park
Orchard Beach State Park
Peninsula State Park
Racine Zoo
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Silver Lake State Park
Traverse City State Park
Terry Andrae State Park
Van Buren State Park
Warren Dunes State Park
White Shoal Light (Michigan)
Wells State Park
Wilderness State Park

Lighthouses[edit | edit source]

Illinois lighthouses
Indiana lighthouses
Michigan lighthouses
Wisconsin lighthouses

Hydrology[edit | edit source]

The Milwaukee Reef runs under Lake Michigan and divides the lake into northern and southern basins. Each basin has a clockwise flow of water, deriving from rivers, winds, and the Coriolis effect. Prevailing westerly winds tend to move the surface water toward the east, which results in a moderating effect on the weather of western Michigan.

Hydrologically Michigan and Huron are the same body of water (sometimes called Lake Michigan-Huron), but are normally considered distinct. Counted together, it is the largest body of fresh water in the world by surface area. The Mackinac Bridge is generally considered the dividing line between them. Both lakes are part of the Great Lakes Waterway.

In earlier maps of the region, the name Lake Illinois has been found in place of "Michigan".

Ecology[edit | edit source]

Lake Michigan is home to a variety of species of fish and other organisms. It was originally home to lake trout, yellow perch, panfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bowfin, as well as some species of catfish. In recent years overfishing has caused a decline in lake trout, ultimately causing an increase in the alewife population. As a result, coho and chinook salmon were introduced as a predator of alewives to decrease the alewife population. This program was so successful that the salmon population exploded, and the states surrounding Lake Michigan promoted Salmon Snagging. This practice has since been made illegal in all of the Great Lakes states with the exception of a limited season in Illinois. Lake Michigan is now being stocked with several species of fish. However, several invader species introduced such as lampreys, round goby, and zebra mussels threaten the vitality of fish populations.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8143-2554-8 ISBN 9780814325544.
Oleszewski, Wes, Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998) ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
Penrod, John, Lighthouses of Michigan, (Berrien Center, Michigan: Penrod/Hiawatha, 1998) ISBN 978-0-942618-78-5 ISBN 9781893624238
Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses (Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999). ISBN 0-923756-03-5 ISBN 9780923756031
Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective, (East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998) ISBN 1-880311-01-1 ISBN 9781880311011
Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1-55046-399-3
[edit]External links
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Lake Michigan
EPA's Great Lakes Atlas
Great Lakes Coast Watch
Michigan DNR map of Lake Michigan
Bathymetry of Lake Michigan
Bibliography on Michigan lighthouses
Interactive map of lighthouses in area (northern Lake Michigan)
Interactive map of lighthouses in area (southern Lake Michigan)
Terry Pepper on lighthouses of the western Great Lakes
Wagner, John L., Beacons Shining in the Night, Michigan lighthouse bibliography, chronology, history, and photographs, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. GLIN, "Lake Michigan" at (accessed 20 November 2013).
  2. Encyclopedia of Chicago, "Lake Michigan" at (accessed 20 November 2013).
  3. Lake Michigan[1](accessed 20 November 2013)
  4. Great Lakes Michigan Facts [2](accessed 20 November 2013)
  5. "Lake Michigan[3](accessed 20 November 2013)