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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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April 2003

Lake Superior: A Place Apart

Nancy Larson & Karen Plass

Facts about Lake Superior


More than a third of Wisconsin's residents live in a Great Lake county, but less than four percent of Wisconsin's coastal residents live along Lake Superior. The Lake Superior region is seeing increasing recreational development, but it doesn't approach the heavy use on Lake Michigan. Lake Superior is far from the state's population centers, and sometimes from public consciousness, yet six percent of Lake Superior's surface area and 153 miles of its mainland shore lie in Wisconsin. Its waters form a beautiful and environmentally valuable part of the state's northern boundary.

Forces that degraded the environment in other Great Lakes in the last century spared Lake Superior to some extent. The basin's poor soils, cool temperatures and short growing season limited agriculture and intensive industrial and commercial development. Timber, mining and transportation have been the region's economic mainstays. Looking ahead, the region struggles to promote economic development, recreation and tourism without sacrificing its unique environment.

Lake Superior's tributaries and watersheds have not yet recovered from the intensive logging era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many industrial facilities that employed basin residents have closed. As undeveloped land and shoreline is sold into smaller parcels and developed for recreational uses, valuable habitat is fragmented. The emotional connection basin residents feel for Lake Superior is a catalyst for environmental stewardship, but the lake's destiny is also tied to actions taken elsewhere.

Welcome to the watershed. © Nancy Larson
The emotional connection basin residents feel for Lake Superior is a catalyst for environmental stewardship.

© Nancy Larson

Facts about Lake Superior
Cubic miles of water: 2,900 (1,180)

Average water retention time (years): 191

Maximum depth (feet): 1,332

Average depth (feet): 483

Percentage of basin that's forested: 91

Percentage of basin that's agricultural: 3

Lake Superior Basin in Wisconsin: 68 percent forested, 15 percent wetland, 11 percent agricultural and grassland

Including the Apostle Islands, Wisconsin's Lake Superior shoreland is 322 miles

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.

Produced by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

FUNDED IN PART BY THE WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM. Financial assistance for this project was provided by the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, administered by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pursuant to Grant #NA17OZ2357 and the WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM.

THE WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM, part of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, and overseen by the WISCONSIN COASTAL MANAGEMENT COUNCIL, was established in 1978 to preserve, protect and manage the resources of the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior coastline for this and future generations.

Also funded in part by the Wisconsin share of the GREAT LAKES PROTECTION FUND. Publ-CE-4006-2003