Appreciating and Protecting Michigan’s Inland Lakes


Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Great Lakes rightly command our attention and affection, but maybe it’s time to take stock of Michigan’s other lake resource—the thousands of lakes distributed across the state map like freckles.

Mocked by a friend of mine as “baby lakes,” Michigan’s inland lakes span a large range of sizes and occur in a variety of environments. It’s appropriate during the state’s Lakes Appreciation Month to take pride in them.

The Michigan Lakes and Streams Association describes the state’s inland lakes as sparkling jewels. “These priceless creations of the last ice age provide unlimited high quality recreational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of our citizens and visitors to our magnificent state as well as economic opportunity for tens of thousands of Michigan residents. The near shore areas of these freshwater gems provide unique lakefront living opportunities with enhanced property values that benefit hundreds of Michigan communities and public school districts.”

As the number of inland lakefront property owners climbs, water quality is increasingly at risk. Michigan’s chapter of the North American Lake Management Society observes, “The quality of Michigan’s inland lakes is ranked among the highest in the nation. However, invasive species, nutrients and other stressors continue to threaten these lakes and shorelines.”

“These priceless creations of the last ice age provide unlimited high quality recreational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of our citizens and visitors to our magnificent state as well as economic opportunity for tens of thousands of Michigan residents. The near shore areas of these freshwater gems provide unique lakefront living opportunities with enhanced property values that benefit hundreds of Michigan communities and public school districts.”

One significant threat to inland lake water quality is failing septic systems, whose discharges of poorly treated human waste contribute to algal blooms and contaminated water. FLOW supports closing this gap by state legislative enactment of a requirement that all septic systems be inspected on a regular basis and replaced if necessary.

A tool for improving inland lake water quality is installation of natural shoreline vegetation, which can filter contaminants before they reach open water. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has advice for shoreline property owners on Michigan’s inland lakes.

“The quality of Michigan’s inland lakes is ranked among the highest in the nation. However, invasive species, nutrients and other stressors continue to threaten these lakes and shorelines.”

Now, to the statistics. 

How many inland lakes does Michigan contain? The number varies across different measuring methods. But if only bodies of water larger than 5 acres qualify, Michigan competes well with neighboring states. Minnesota, whose nickname is Land of 10,000 lakes, only edges out Michigan by a margin of 11,842 to 11,037. And Michigan’s inland lakes include “a good handful covering 1,000 acres or more.”

There is dispute over the most common lake name in Michigan. One source estimates that Mud Lake is the winner with over 300 currently or historically wearing that name. But another source says Long Lake is most common with only 21 wearing that name.

Only one state, Maryland, has not a single lake. Alaska is easily the inland lake leader in the U.S. with over 3,000 named lakes and over 3 million total.

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