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Regional Landscape Ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

SUBSECTION IX.2. Michigamme Highland

Precambrian granitic and sandstone bedrock knobs, rocky ground moraine, bedrock lakes, localized outwash plains; northern hardwood forest, white pine-red pine-red oak on bedrock, balds, localized jack pine barrens.
DISCUSSION: Subsection IX.2 is defined by the uplands of exposed Precambrian bedrock. Elevations rise rapidly from Lake Superior at 602 feet to 1,980 feet at Mount Curwood, the highest point in Michigan (Albert et al. 1986).

ELEVATION: 602 to 1,980 feet (184 to 604 m).

AREA: 1,182 square miles (3,061 sq km).

STATES: Michigan.

CLIMATE: Continental; extreme snowfall along the Lake Superior shoreline, extremely cold winters. Growing season ranges from 75 days in the interior to 150 days along the Lake Superior coast; most of the variation occurs within 10 to 15 miles of the coast (Albert et al. 1986, Eichenlaub et al. 1990). Extreme minimum temperature ranges from -28½F along the coast to 46½F inland (Eichenlaub et al. 1990). Snowfall is heaviest inland, averaging 200 inches, and is least along the coast, averaging 120 to 140 inches. Average annual precipitation is 32 to 36 inches; the heaviest precipitation falls at high elevations inland. The extreme climatic gradient from the Lake Superior shoreline to the inland parts of the subsection has an influence on the biota. One example of this is the presence of scattered American beech near the shoreline, but not further inland.

BEDROCK GEOLOGY: Large areas of exposed Precambrian-age bedrock, consisting of diverse types of metamorphic, igneous, and sedimentary bedrock, including sandstone and shale, gneiss, amphibole, slate, metagraywacke, quartzite, mafic volcanic rocks, and iron formation (Morey et al. 1982). The iron formations were once heavily mined in the Michigamme Range, but most mines are no longer operating.

LANDFORMS: Although bedrock generally controls topography, the character of the topography is variable. In some areas, the terrain is a mosaic of low rocky ridges less than 50 feet high, with many small lakes and swamps (Albert et al. 1986). In other areas, like the Huron Mountains, large, exposed ridges of granite or sandstone can be 500 to 800 feet high.

There are local areas of sandy till deposits. These can be extremely steep, as between the Yellow Dog plain and Lake Superior. Two large outwash plains occur within the subsection, the Yellow Dog and the Mulligan plains, which are separated by only a few miles.

LAKES AND STREAMS: Lakes occupy depressions in the bedrock created by glacial erosion. These bedrock lakes are common throughout. Some of the larger lakes are Lake Michigamme, Craig Lake, Crooked Lake, Beaufort Lake, Mountain Lake, Rush Lake, Ives Lake, Conway Lake, Lake Margaret, Bulldog Lake, and the Silver Lake Basin, but there are many more. Some of these large lakes (Ann, Howe, Rush, Trout, and Pine) were created or deepened by severe late glacial-era flooding (Drexler 1981).

Rivers and smaller streams are also numerous. Most of these streams have steep gradients, and many have waterfalls near Lake Superior. Some of the larger streams are the Peshekee, Huron, Little Huron, Dead, Yellow Dog, and Salmon Trout Rivers.

SOILS: Mostly sands. The sands of the outwash plain are excessively drained. The sandy tills near Lake Superior are not as well sorted as those of the outwash and are well drained rather than excessively drained. Local silt caps of aeolian origin cover some of the rock knobs (Pregitzer and Barnes 1984). The tops of the bedrock knobs have little or no soil. All the soils are very acidic. Soils of the entire subsection are classified as Spodosols, primarily Orthods (USDA Soil Conservation Service 1967).

PRESETTLEMENT VEGETATION: Northern hardwoods (lacking beech, except along the Lake Superior shoreline) were dominant on tills and also on those thin soils over bedrock that did not burn frequently. Hemlock was often the dominant species, growing along with northern hardwoods and white pine. The sandy soils of the gullied ridges north of the Yellow Dog plain supported northern-hardwoods forest. On sandy ground moraine, northern hardwood forests dominated the well-drained soils, and red pine-white pine forests dominated the more excessively drained soils.

Scattered white pine, red pine, and red oak were the dominant trees on exposed bedrock ridges. On the most heavily burned ridges, lichens and juniper dominated.

Hemlock and hemlock-white pine forests dominated the outwash deposits around Marquette. Jack-pine forests dominated the droughty outwash sands of the Yellow Dog and Mulligan plains.

Balsam fir, tamarack, and black spruce were the most common species in the wetlands, which were often in relatively small drainages located between the steepsided bedrock uplands.

The largest wetlands were along the shoreline on sandy lake plain. Extensive emergent marsh was noted along the Iron River near its mouth. Complexes of forested beach ridges and swales are located at Little Presque Isle, Big Bay, Iron River, the mouth of the Salmon Trout River, and at the Pine River mouth. The drier complexes supported upland forests of hemlock-white pine, or on droughtier sites, jack pine and red pine. The wetter complexes were mostly "open swamp" dominated by spruce and cedar or speckled alder and shrub willows.

NATURAL DISTURBANCE: Extensive burned forests were reported by GLO surveyors around Marquette, and many fires have been noted within the Huron Mountain Club, especially on rocky ridges or lake margins (Simpson et al. 1990). Lightning-strike fires occur on ridge tops, as I observed in 1989. No major windthrow areas were recorded by surveyors in this subsection, but small areas of windthrow presently occur in old-growth forests here.

PRESENT VEGETATION AND LAND USE: Native American encampments and trails were noted by GLO surveyors at Big Bay. By 1846, when this area was surveyed, iron mining activities by European companies had already begun. Furnaces and forges were already established in and around Marquette. Roads were established leading west and southwest of Marquette, and some rivers had already been diverted for use in mining.

Logging and mining have been a major part of land use activities in the subsection. Mining for iron in the Michigamme Range created many large open-pit mines. The diversion of creeks and rivers has undoubtedly had an impact on associated wetlands, either by flooding or removal of water sources. Some impoundments are highly polluted by mine tailings and chemical products of mining.

Urban development is concentrated around Marquette. Recreation is an important land use, both along the shoreline and inland.

Old-growth forests persist in the Huron Mountain Club and parts of the McCormick Tract, where detailed ecological mapping and classification have been conducted (Simpson et al. 1990, Pregitzer et al. 1983).

RARE PLANT COMMUNITIES: The open bedrock ridges, which have not been completely explored, may be floristically different from those of other parts of Michigan.

RARE PLANTS: Many of the rare plants of the subsection are found on either cliffs or bedrock balds. Asplenium viride (green spleenwort), Collinsia parviflora (small blue-eyed Mary), Cryptogramma stelleri (slender cliff-brake), Danthonia compressa (flat oatgrass), Draba arabisans (rock whitlow-grass), Dryopteris fragrans (fragrant cliff woodfern), Dryopteris expansa (expanded woodfern), Gentiana linearis (narrow-leaved gentian), Nuphar pumila (small yellow pond-lily), Opuntia fragilis (fragile prickly-pear), Ribes oxyacanthoides (northern gooseberry), Salix pellita (willow), Senecio indecorus (rayless mountain ragwort), Vaccinium cespitosum (dwarf bilberry), Woodsia alpina (northern woodsia).

RARE ANIMALS: Falco columbarius (merlin), Lycaeides idas nobokovi (northern blue butterfly), Martes americana (marten).

NATURAL AREAS: Wilderness Areas: Huron Islands (Seney National Wildlife Refuge), McCormick Tract (Ottawa National Forest); Research Natural Areas: McCormick Tract (Ottawa NF); Michigan Nature Association Preserves: Willow Creek, Braastad Memorial; Huron Mountain Club: Nature Reserve Area.

PUBLIC LAND MANAGERS: State Forests: Escanaba River, Copper Country; State Parks: Craig Lake; National Forests: Ottawa; Experimental Forests: McCormick, Upper Peninsula; State Environmental Areas: Squaw Bay.

CONSERVATION CONCERNS: The privately owned Huron Mountain Club manages a large tract (8,000 acres) of northern hardwoods and open pine-oak dominated bedrock knobs as a Nature Reserve Area, with access for scientific study only. The McCormick Research Natural Area also protects a large tract of northern hardwoods, including some mature areas of white pine. Remaining old-growth hardwood and conifer forests are on private land and are not protected. In the remainder of the subsection, biological survey is incomplete. Aerial photo surveys show there are probably high-quality bedrock knobs worthy of biological investigation throughout the subsection.

JPG - Huron Mountain Club, Marquette County, Mich.
Figure 25.Subsection IX.2: Huron Mountain Club, Marquette County, Michigan. Glacial ice scoured the granitic and sandstone bedrock of this subsection, creating a landscape of lakes and exposed bedrock knobs. White pine and red pine cling to the thin soils of the knobs, while eastern hemlock and northern hardwoods occupy areas with thicker, better developed soils. Photo by B.V. Barnes.

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Next Section -- Section IX.3. Upper Wisconsin/Michigan Moraines

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