Protecting water

UPLC working to safeguard Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex

A volunteer walks down a path at the at Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex Saturday. Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy staff and volunteers worked Saturday to make a trail out of an old, filled-in logging road using were weed whackers, loppers, and hand saws, organizers said.

MARQUETTE — The practices and ecosystems surrounding headwaters are critical for the quality of water and life in communities downstream.

At the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex, visitors can find a protected area containing a wealth of wetlands and the headwaters of the Peshekee River in the “globally rare ecosystem” of the Michigamme Highlands, UPLC Executive Director Andrea Denham said.

“We’re all just really focusing on protecting this ecosystem because it is just so rare and so ancient and intact,” Denham said.

The preserve, which is home to moose, black bears, eagles, nesting loons, wolves and many more species contains an “incredibly diverse habitat” ranging from “steep-sloped old-growth hemlock forest to the island-dotted eutrophic lake,” according to the UPLC.

Indian Lake itself, as the headwaters for the Peshekee River, is “the source of an amazing amount of freshwater that thousands of people depend on for healthy drinking water,” as well as fishing, recreation and healthy forest ecosystems, information about the preserve states.

The forest at Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex in the Michigamme Highlands is pictured. The preserve encompasses Indian Lake and many wetlands that help provide clean drinking water for many communities downstream, making it especially critical to protect, according to the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy. (Photos courtesy of the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy)

“Protecting the headwaters of the Peshekee River is a big part of protecting clean drinking water for our communities,” Denham said, noting the area is situated at the divide of the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan watersheds.

The preserve area contains “headwaters of some really major tributaries to Lake Michigan,” as it “encompasses the vast majority of the watershed for Indian Lake,” which is the headwaters for the Peshekee River, which flows into Lake Michigamme, which then empties into the Michigamme River, which joins the Menominee River before the Menominee River empties into Lake Michigan, Denham said.

Furthermore, the area contains many wetlands, which act as “natural water filters,” Denham said.

This is significant, she said, as over 4 million acres — around 40% — of Michigan’s wetlands have been lost in less than 200 years.

“They’re a huge part of what keeps that clean swimming water, clean fishing water, clean drinking water and they also store quite a bit of carbon,” Denham said. “So protecting wetlands from degradation and development is massively important to mitigating the effects of climate change in the U.P.”

A bird’s nest found at the Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex Saturday is pictured.

Because of the importance of this ecosystem’s wetlands and headwaters, many public and private entities have worked to protect the Michigamme Highlands, setting up a number of preserves and conservancies in the area, Denham said.

The UPLC’s own collection of preserves in the Indian Lake area, which began in 2014 with a donation by the Murphy family, was recently expanded by 154 acres with the donation of Indian Lake West, Denham said.

With this addition, as well as the expansion of the nearby Craig Lake State Park to encompass Kewadin Lake, Craig Lake State Park and the Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex now share a boundary, Denham said.

Due to this, the UPLC is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to eventually connect trails in the Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex to Craig Lake State Park’s trails, increasing access to the rugged wildness area, she said.

“We’re very excited to have this collaboration with the DNR to give visitors to Craig Lake State Park even more wilderness to explore and even more opportunity in that same visit without having to drive around to a different trailhead or having to drive around to a different place,” Denham said. “We’re really hoping that by having this collaboration with the DNR, we’ll be encouraging more visitation as well. With more managed trails, we want to be a part of the community and provide opportunities for the community to get involved.”

Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy staff and volunteers are pictured during a sustainable trail making activity at the Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex Saturday. The effort is being undertaken, they said, as the preserve now shares a boundary with Craig Lake State Park, and the UPLC is working to make small trails on a recently-acquired part of the preserve l to eventually connect with trails at the state park and expand access.

Over the weekend, the UPLC and volunteers began initial efforts to create trails on the UPLC preserve that will eventually connect to Craig Lake State Park Trails.

“We finished about half of the total trail planned for UPLC’s side of the trail,” Denham said, adding the DNR portion of the trail on Craig Lake State Park land is anticipated to be completed in the spring.

A significant portion of the UPLC trail is being built on a former logging road, Denham said, noting the group aims to build trails in “a sustainable way,” to minimize potential impacts. The group cleared grass, brush and weeds along the abandoned logging trail Saturday.

Eventually, the group hopes to establish an informational kiosk and “be able to give the public access to somewhere around 8 or 9 miles of trails” that can be easily accessed from Craig Lake State Park, Denham said.

“It will be a really gorgeous trail winding through the woods, there’s dramatic rises, a nice overlook,” Denham said.

Adina Daar, a member of Saturday’s trail-making crew at the Upper Peninsula Land Conservancy’s Indian Lake Watershed Preserve Complex, is pictured. A crew of five spent about four hours making trails Saturday, organizers said. (Photo courtesy of UPLC)

Overall, Denham said, the group aims to be a part of “conserving that wilderness experience” for Upper Peninsula residents and visitors.

“There’s all sorts of wilderness adventures to be had back there,” she said.

The UPLC will hold an Indian Lake Exploration Day at the preserve Aug. 31. For those who would like to participate in the trip, learn more about the preserve, or volunteer for trail building with the UPLC, email uplc@uplandconservancy.org or call 906-225-8067 for more information.

To learn more about the preserve and how to access it, visit www.uplandconservancy.org/indian-lake.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.