The Watershed- Wit’s End, Part II

Here are a couple of maps to help you get oriented. The whole state map reminds you that, yes, we look just like a mitten- with some sort of mutant life form perched on top. That part of the state has been trying to secede (and succeed) for many years. It is mineral and lake and wildlife rich; other than that the folks up there just have a few pasties and roads to plow. And of course, the Bud and Jan show, which is at the absolute northern most tip on that little peninsula that juts out into Lake Superior. Looking at this map you may understand some of my whining about how I can’t get from here to there easily; NYC is closer.

We are surrounded by the biggest and most beautiful inland lakes in the world, each very distinctive. Superior is cold, bleak and wild, Michigan is big and glamorous, Erie is always working to be clean, Huron is the Lake of watersports, we share shipping lanes with Canada on Lake Ontario and St. Claire is some miserable suburb of Detroit.

MaphuronOn this map, Wit’s End is located right precisely where three watershed corners come together down in the southeastern quadrant. The bluer green watershed districts that cover the thumb go to Lake Huron while the grass green districts to the south drain to Lake Erie. Right there, at the three corners, the light green area that covers the western half of the state flows to the Big Lake (aka, Michigan) and Wit’s End is in that very first watershed, the Grand River watershed, right where three colors come together.

Technically, we are labeled by the DEQ (Dept. of Env. Quality- both our Friend and our nemesis) as the Red Cedar/ Lower Grand River Watershed. (Here’s where little bells and whistle begin to go off for at least one of my distant readers…)

Wikipedia (surprisingly!) has this entry: A watershed is a region of land where water drains downhill into a specified body of water, such as a river, lake, sea, ocean or wetland. A watershed includes both the waterway and the land that drains to it. Each watershed is separated topographically by a ridge, hill or mountain. A watershed is like a funnel – collecting all the water within the drainage area and channeling it into a waterway. Back in Ann Arbor, The Huron River provides our greenspace parks, metroparks, and ties us to the eastern part of the state. Watershed management falls first under the jurisdiction the DEQ and then the EPA and they are constantly vigilant to see that the draining waters don’t pick up too much of the flotsam and jetsam that human beings launch moment by moment. A major threat to the Huron River Watershed has been the construction boom of drywall palaces and MacMansions; all of that building causes erosion, runoff,and topographical mayhem even before the people move in and start polluting the place up. Old Horsetail commented, "all rivers have stoneflies, silly." All CLEAN rivers have stoneflies (probably most of the ones in Oregon) because stoneflies, a good indicator of healthy aquatic life, can only hatch in unpolluted waters. And our river here in town isn’t nicknamed the Urine River for no good reason.

CedralakeBack at Wit’s End and Cedar Lake and the Red Cedar River. Here, 45 minutes northwest of Ann Arbor, begins the Grand River Watershed, Here, everything begins to flow west to Lake Michigan. And I mean literally here. In the first little map you can see Wit’s End marked by the red star. Cedar Lake is sort of kidney shaped and our little place comes out on a point that intersects the lake. Right at the edge of our place, smack by the mailbox, is the dam which begins the Red Cedar River and the watershed. Hence, Cedar Lake is what is called a headwater lake; the watershed begins with us. In the drawn map you can see the Red Cedar River as she begins her path north and then west.

The DEQ cares a lot about the quality of a headwater lake. I guess if you at least start with clean water you start with a chance. Cedar Lake is very clean, in a deceptive sort of way. There aren’t many houses on it and only 4 or 5 of the large fancy year round types. That’s coming but in a fairly slow and restricted way since much of the shoreline is protected wetlands. The big fancy house owners get themselves on the township board and railroad endlessly for weed control and dredging- after all, it’s tough to race about on jet skis with the lake full of grasses, swans, loons and SandHill Cranes. Which is what Cedar Lake is full of. And muskrats. And many many fish, They just can’t believe that the DEQ isn’t going to let them drag out all the grass and lilies and dredge a deep level bottom rather than the rolling terrain from shallow to deep spring water holes that are down there now. They also cannot get this through their thick skulls: most inland lakes have arsenic in the silt bottom. It remains harmless and inert on the bottom of the lake; it doesn’t impact most wells nor fish nor fowl. But if you drag it out of the bottom of a lake and dump it on dry land it becomes dangerous and leaches into the soil as deadly arsenic. These few yahoos had this idea that they could put their dollars together and buy, in perpetuity, a plot of land, a mausoleum of sorts, to hold this arsenic laced soil they want dredged off the bottom. To hell with the fish and fowl, lizards, bugs and small mammals, native plants- at least they could jet ski. Fortunately they are in a very small minority and the rant part of this post is over.

If you look at this fuzzy aerial map you can figure out where Wit’s End is- on that light line stretch. And then you can see what we call the hundred acre wood (it’s 137 acres) behind us. Right in the middle of that woods is a small pond that exists only in springtime but this is the "wetland" that prevents any future development of the hundred acre wood. In that pond, right after the 2nd heavy warm rain, a million spotted salamanders and a trillion spring peepers explode into life. I don’t know how many really but you get the idea. The song of the night makes you giggle for hours. Beyond the wooded acreage you see tan patches of farmland. This combination: water, marsh, trees, tilled farm land is like paradise for Sandhill Cranes. I have seen as many as 120 in that field on the corner of our road in early fall.

Sophie goes out to Wit’s End sometimes and once in a rare while she escapes the cottage and races into the woods. She was barely a kitten that first spring and she came back to the door snorting and coughing and batting at her nose. When she lifted her face I saw she had a spotted salamander as a gift for me. Although she didn’t want to let him go, he had to taste vile by her reaction. Hours later she was still sticking out her tongue and gagging.

You can also see the shallows and marshy areas that line the lake. This is what makes the lake attractive to an amazing assortment of life. Tomorrow I’ll share some photos of the dam I took two days ago, the beginning of the river and more of Wit’s End.Cedar_lake_2_1

8 responses to “The Watershed- Wit’s End, Part II

  1. Wow this is great! Sandhill cranes, a protected woods, protected lake…you really did find a perfect spot.

    I’m feeling much less stumped now. Ol’Wayne really started something with this watershed meme.

  2. I haven’t looked into the watershed around here although I have seen road signs all over Virginia that indicate what watershed you’re in. This is so very interesting. You must record the sound in spring and put it in a post so all can hear the beautiful symphony.

  3. The prices of waterfront property have been obscene in Michigan here lately. My folks have a lakefront cottage up north and prices there seem to have doubled and tripled in a short span of time.

    Hea, thanks for the invite to go to Las Vegas with you, but I dunno. If my jumbo jet is going to be hurtling towards the ground at mach two, I’d rather have my wife beside me. Just the romantic in me, I guess.

  4. OK, don’t be mad at me, but I have to admit that when I first saw the post I moaned and said, “Noooooo! It’s too EDUCATIONAL and science-y!” But then I settled down and read it carefully and I actually understood it, and it was interesting. I love how smart you are about the natural world. Couldn’t you be the next Annie Dillard?

  5. You certainly are a great teacher, Vicki. Even I understood it, and I’m not a science-ish type!

    About “kenju”? If you google it, you get page after page (only some of which are about me…LOL) Apparently, it is a very common name in Japan.

  6. I shall politely resist typing out the entire MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FIGHT SONG, but the opening line – “On the banks of the Red Cedar is a school that’s known to all” always brings a tear to my eye. Thank you for that. You are a font of watershed information, Vicki!

    I spent childhood summers at my aunt and grandma’s cottages on Union Lake and Walled Lake. Another aunt hostessed us in Lake City. Are they any part of this watershed business? Of course, my dad took my mother, sister, and I fishing and canoeing on Grand River every chance he got. More fond tears! I once had a cello lesson in St. Claire with Italo Babini of the DSO. I was crowned Queen of Green Lake (Wapakaneta?) while studying at Interlochen one summer. My sister and I took our first camping trip (without the folks) at Ludington and many special times were had on Traverse Bay. My folks retired near Lake Huron.

    My bells and whistles are going full tilt and I haven’t even touched on our U.P. vacations. Why do I have a sudden urge for pasties? I’ve come full circle with your blog now!

  7. I’m originally from Wisconsin, but went to school in the U.P., Michigan Tech. Your descriptions brought back some memories of “home”. 🙂

  8. This is an amazing piece of work, Vicki. I had no idea about the arsenic – seems like even the yahoos could understand that. What sounds good is that the yahoos seem to be in the minority.

    Cedar Lake seems the focus of a vibrant ecology there. I’m glad DEQ has the foresight to realize how important it is.

    And now – the question – how loudly do the frogs call in the spring?

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