Every young geography student in America probably was taught the acronym HOMES to remember all five names of the Great Lakes. Even as adults, we use it as a handy little reference: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Five truly Great Lakes in the heart of our country. So what are some of the features that make them so “great”?
I recently saw a fascinating, but scary, documentary about the on-going story of the west’s water crisis: “Killing the Colorado” (River), which makes me realize that frequently Midwesterners take for granted the abundance of water right here. So one of the most important features to remember is that the Great Lakes system is the largest source of fresh drinking water in the world. About 97% of the world’s water supply is salt water in oceans and seas; water that provides recreation and abundance of food, but not drinkable. So protecting and caring for the life source of water found in the Great Lakes has become of utmost importance for the preservation of their beauty and a resource to us. Mistakes we have made in the past with pollution, over-fishing and neglect have (hopefully) taught us the extreme importance of the preservation of our Great Lakes. A wonderful organization: the Alliance for the Great Lakes, established in 1970, helps to “protect and restore the world’s largest surface freshwater resource.” They help to educate the public on matters of preservation, help to organize beach and coastline clean-ups and assist with the implementation of the control of invasive species. In recent years the concern of the invasion of the Asian Carp into the Great Lakes has created the need for several programs to stop the destructive elements of these very invasive fish. You can read more about this organization and their work with the Great Lakes at: http://www.greatlakes.org
In addition to preservation of the quality of the water for drinking, the Great Lakes of course provide an abundance of recreational opportunities. The five Great Lakes span 10,000 miles of shoreline making it longer than the coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines of the United States. Nifty huh!? Sometimes California thinks they have the monopoly on abundant, beautiful shorelines. Take a spin around the Great Lakes and see the beauty that is here in the middle of the country.
Another superlative that I think is pretty cool is the fact that with all those miles and miles of shoreline, the Great Lakes has the largest concentration of lighthouses in the world. Not just the country, the world. I think that is pretty cool, something that makes the Midwest stand out shall we say. Plus, I am a lover of lighthouses to the extent that I consider myself an aficionado. Living in the Midwest, in the heart of all these lighthouses, makes it easy to be interested in them and their histories. So in the Great Lakes region, there are over 200 lighthouses dotting all that abundant coastline. However, with modern navigation systems, most of the lighthouses are more of architectural and historical significance, and are not actively in use as guidance. So there’s a recreational pursuit for you: go Lighthouse touring. Fishing, boating, beachcombing are all great recreational pastimes in the Great Lakes, so add seeking Lighthouses to the list.
Even with all the lighthouses to guide those ships in the past, tragically however the amount of ship wrecks in the Great Lakes is staggering. It is amazing that since the 1600’s, that the remains of over 6,000 shipwrecks are in the waters of all the Great Lakes. Looking at pictures of ship wrecks one can just imagine the devastation to crew and product. When ships go down, there was not always loss of life, but nevertheless seeing a ship in its watery grave never fails to bring a shudder and a feeling of sadness. Apparently there is also a certain intrigue and mystery about shipwrecks; there is an abundance of literature and groups of people interested in the topic. One ship in particular that is very easy to view, even from the shoreline is called “Sweepstakes”. Pictured here, it was built in 1867 and was used predominately to transport coal. It is one of the most easily viewed ship wrecks today as it lies in only about 20 feet of water in Lake Huron. Out of all the photographs of shipwrecks that I have seen, this one in particular really gives me goosebumps. Perhaps it is because it is so clear and it feels as if any minute a corpse could float to the surface. (Like I said…..Goosebumps)
The beauty, history and importance of the Great Lakes in our lives continues to be relevant. Having an appreciation for them encourages our preservation and proper use of them to guarantee a continued legacy for generations to come.
Put your traveling shoes on. JES