38,000 square miles. That’s a lot of real estate. In fact, it’s bigger than the square mileage of 12 states — including Indiana, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
It’s part of Michigan. It’s a part you and all other citizens of Michigan own.
And it’s all underwater, under Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie.
These Great Lakes submerged lands are protected by the public trust doctrine.
Under the public trust, the waters of the Great Lakes Basin and the lands beneath them can never be controlled by or transferred to private interests for private purposes or gain.
Our rights to use the water of the Great Lakes Basin cannot be alienated or subordinated by our governments to special private interests; this means that all reasonable private use and public uses may be accommodated so long as the public trust waters and ecosystem are not harmed and the paramount public right to public uses is not subordinated or impaired. Because many citizens are not aware that the public trust doctrine is part of their bundle of rights in our democracy, many of our leaders and big business are ignoring and violating these principles.
Add these 38,000-plus square miles underwater to the 58,000 or so square miles of Michigan of land and water that makes up the Upper and Lower Peninsula, and you have a total state area of approximately 96,700 square miles of Michigan. That makes Michigan the 11th largest state in area.
Trivia question: how many states does Michigan border? The answer is not 3 — Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio. Michigan does border these states, but there are two more, Minnesota and Illinois, making a total of 5. Michigan’s waters and submerged lands meet Minnesota’s in Lake Superior and Illinois in Lake Michigan.