Remember Lake Michigan

Moving away from Lake Michigan, to our new home in Madison, was one of the toughest decisions we’ve ever made. We were caretakers of a 62 acre nature preserve on several hundred linear feet of Lake Michigan frontage. I grew up very close to Lake Michigan, so I was excited to have the opportunity to live there again.

But just a few weeks after we moved in, we realized that something was terribly wrong. The Lake wasn’t the way I remembered it at all. In fact, the shoreline was choked – almost completely useless – covered in massive clumps of algae (cladophora) as far as the eye could see. Some days, it would cluster together, and form massive rafts that extended out into the lake over 100 feet.

I’m not going to open a debate on this blog about exactly why this is the case, because there are as many opinions as there are strands of algae choking the shore. I only share this experience because I don’t think enough people are aware of how bad it really is.

Some parts of the coast aren’t as bad – depending on the natural currents of the Lake, this stuff seems to be deposited in certain stretches, and not others. But for miles and miles along the stretch we lived, the Lake’s shoreline was all but worthless, almost all year long.

It isn’t just the visual pollution either, it’s also the stench. Dead zebra mussels mixing with the algae makes a nasty concoction, and when the wind blows from the east, its time to close the windows. If the wind blows from the west, it brings the smell of one of Wisconsin’s largest factory dairy farm operations – thousands and thousands of cows in a small area, and vats of liquid manure doesn’t smell much better than the rotting algae (the manure spills that regularly contaminate and kill off thousands of fish in the creeks feeding Lake Michigan is another challenge altogether). These aren’t smells the nose easily adjusts to. If you ever drive I-43 between XX and C, just open your windows and you’ll see what I mean. I’m certainly no expert on this, and might have it all wrong – but I can, at the very least, trust my nose and my eyes – and what I see and smell is awful.

Just like I offer no debate over why this is happening, I’ll also offer no solutions. Of course, I have ideas about the causes, and spend a lot of time trying to think of solutions, but I’m no authority. My intention is only to call attention to the situation, as it is. I’d like to raise awareness of the problem, because, even though I lived close to it, and read the news regularly, I was only dimly aware of the magnitude of this problem. I should add that this wasn’t the reason we moved back to Madison.  There were lots of other factors contributing to that the decision that had nothing to do with the location.

I would like to imagine that when the rest of the country (or the world for that matter) think of the Great Lakes – they imagine vast, clean, pure fresh water. Unfortunately that isn’t the case , at least not along the shoreline we had the opportunity to live on.

If only Asian Carp ate cladophera! I think there is good reason to believe they’ll be the next big disaster in the Great Lakes. Here’s a preview of what we have to look forward to:


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