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Chequamegon Bay, adjoining Ashland and Washburn, covers 53 square miles with an average depth of 28 feet, and maximum depth of 61 feet. Its watershed, fed by more than 2,100 miles of streams, covers 1,440 square miles, making it the largest single watershed on Lake Superior's South Shore. Coastal wetlands ring the bay at the mouths of several streams, notably Fish Creek Sloughs near Ashland, and the Sioux and Onion rivers between Ashland and Bayfield.
The 16,000-acre Kakagon and Bad River sloughs on the Bad River Indian Reservation form the largest undeveloped coastal wetland complex on the upper Great Lakes. These "Everglades of the North," the only remaining location where wild rice is abundant on Lake Superior, produce nearly 20,000 pounds of rice each year. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Kakagon Sloughs, as a national landmark because it is home to many threatened and endangered species such as the trumpeter swan, yellow rail, bald eagle and wood turtle.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which created the 540-acre Whittlesey Creek National Wildlife Refuge in 1999, is working with local landowners to protect and restore another 1,240 acres. Studies of Whittlesey Creek, Fish Creek and other streams are helping resource management agencies understand the unique characteristics of red clay streams and understand how (and how much) land uses have accelerated streambank erosion and sand deposition in streambeds.
The Northern Great Lakes Regional Visitor center opened near Whittlesey Creek in 1998. The Center offers environmental education programs to address critical natural resource issues in the Lake Superior basin.
A positive imprint
The good work being done in Wisconsin is just part of work being done by agencies and organizations all around the basin. Lake Superior has many moods, many colors, many friends. Its renowned size, awesome power and striking beauty impress those who visit the lake. Those lucky enough to live near it resist leaving, although the economy usually seems greener elsewhere. The challenge is to do as little harm and as much good as possible: to recognize and preserve the things that sustain this remarkably intact ecosystem, and to restore key environmental functions that have been damaged by human activities. Our best hope is to learn to coexist with the lake and its watershed, so future generations will inherit Lake Superior in all its glory.
Nancy Larson is Wisconsin DNR's Lake Superior program coordinator. Karen Plass is a former Lake Superior specialist with the Wisconsin DNR and former executive director of the St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee; she currently works for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.