What’s Your Favorite Great Lake?

An informal poll of Great Lakes lovers gave a clear victory to Lake Superior. It holds as much water as the other four Great Lakes combined (plus three Lake Eries), has 2,726 miles of shoreline, and has a turnover time of 173 years. In the words of one respondent to a recent informal survey, “Every time I look at it I am convinced I am at the edge of the world.”

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

With the Winter Solstice and the darkest day of the year behind us, it’s time for a little light.

I recently posted a survey on both Twitter and Facebook asking followers and friends to name their favorite Great Lake and to explain their allegiance. The answers were both quantitative and qualitative.

The quantitative results came from a Twitter poll. Because Twitter offers only four options for a poll, I chose to leave out Lake Ontario but invited voters with allegiance to that lake to make comments about it. That didn’t satisfy Ontariophiles, who felt slighted and said so. Here are the results for the remaining Great Lakes, out of 571 votes cast:

Superior, 47.3%

Erie, 22.6%

Michigan, 17%

Huron, 13.1%

Such polls are grossly unscientific, but it was nevertheless a surprise that Erie topped Michigan in the voting.

The qualitative results reflect respondents’ insights. Dr. Nancy Langston, a distinguished professor of environmental history at Michigan Technological University and author of Sustaining Lake Superior and the just-released Climate Ghosts, offered a simple explanation for her vote: “Why? Because it is superior!”

Jeff Padden, a former Michigan legislator whose 10-year voting record expressed his strong environmental values, stands up for Erie. “At least for today, it is my favorite. It could be named Lake Lazarus, since it came back from the dead. Its resurrection is vivid proof that public policy matters.”

David Ruck, founder of Great Lakes Outreach Media and creator of the new documentary The Erie Situation, chooses Lake Michigan. “I grew up next to it and it has taught me as much as any education about the world, possibilities, using my imagination, and love.”

Katie Wolf vouches for Huron “for its miles of undeveloped shoreline and natural, wild beauty. The abundance of historical maritime treasures both along the shores and underwater offer a lifetime of mysteries to explore, research and photograph. Sunrises and sunsets from the Presque Isle Peninsula are spectacular, too.”

 As I mentioned, Lake Ontario has its adherents, too. Sharon Cottle wrote, “Lake Ontario for me. I have lived all my life within a couple of miles of her. Don’t mess with her when she gets mad, yet she can look like an infinity pool at times. Love the others too.”

And by “the others,” could we also mean Lake St. Clair? My colleague Diane Dupuis argues, “My favorite has to be Lake St. Clair, the essential yet perpetually omitted “pretty darn great” lake whose absence would mean quite a portage for Great Lakes freighters laden to the Plimsoll line. Lake St. Clair is born out of the world’s largest freshwater delta: unique by definition. By square feet it ranks #15 in the country, but by recognition it ranks zero in the Great Lakes Basin.”

It was Tony Infante who had, in my mind, the correct answer (although they’re all correct to someone). “Is this a trick question? It’s easy: Huron-Michigan, actually two Great Lakes, make one Grand Lake.”

That’s right. The one Great Lake that gets no respect is Lake Huron-Michigan (or Michigan-Huron).

When North Americans are asked to identify the largest lake in the world, many of them single out Lake Superior. But they’re wrong. Russia’s Lake Baikal is the largest by volume. Lake Michigan-Huron is the largest by surface area at 45,300 square miles. Superior is a mere 31,700 square miles and Baikal, a mere 12,248.

Why isn’t Lake Huron-Michigan widely recognized by the public? It has a single water level. But nature has designed it in such a way as to fool the human mind. Linked only by a five-mile strait, the Michigan lobe and the Huron lobe resemble fraternal twins. One is dotted by large cities, and heavily industrialized at one end. The watershed of the other is lightly populated, and the lake/lobe has been all but forgotten.

The converse of the above is the remarkable diversity of Lake Michigan-Huron. Sandy and stony shores, majestic cities and legally designated wilderness, sturgeon and salmon, the hush of the north and the anxious intensity of the Midwest, the maple leaf and the Stars and Stripes. There is no other lake close to it in all the world.

That’s mine. What’s your favorite Great Lake?

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