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North Manitou Island is managed as wilderness with the exception of a 27 acre area around the Village. Visiting the island is a primitive experience emphasizing solitude, a feeling of self-reliance and a sense of exploration. The primary visitor activities are backpacking and camping. Travel in the wilderness area is by foot only. Power on the island is provided by a photovoltaic array located in the Village.
North Manitou Island is 7-3/4 miles (12.5 km) long by 4-1/4 miles (6.85 km) wide and has 20 miles (32 km) of shoreline. The highest point on the island is in the northwest corner, 1,001 feet (305 m) above sea level or 421 feet (128 m) above Lake Michigan. The topography varies considerably on the island. Low, sandy, open dune country on the southeast side grades into interfingering high sand hills and blowout dunes on the southwest side of the island.
Lake Manitou [elevation 675 feet (206 m)] occupies a lowland in the north central portion of the island. To the west of the lake the terrain becomes very rugged as you approach the west and northwest bluffs. The bluffs are very incised and steep between Swenson’s and the Pot Holes. Its 300-foot (90 m) high face is deeply gullied by erosion.
Biology of North Manitou Island
The North Manitou wilderness environment is a reflection of the interesting wildlife and natural flora of the island. The island is one of a chain of islands between Michigan’s Upper and LowerPeninsulas. Migrating birds pass from one island to another to cross Lake Michigan. These include many species of warblers and other songbirds, woodcock and snipe. The contiguous forests of the island offer shelter for these birds. Bald Eagles are also often seen flying over the island.
National Park Service
Some beaches are home for the Piping Plover, which is listed as an endangered species. Although there are only about thirty (30) nesting pairs in all of the Great Lakes, 3 to 4 plover nests are found on the remote beaches of the island. These areas are closed to hikers and are marked with signs and often fence. Please do not enter these areas! The 20 miles of beach are habitat for other shore birds as well, whether they are migrating or nesting. One often sees many species of waterfowl along the shoreline, including mergansers, scaup, goldeneyes, Canada geese, and even loons.
The island does not have the variety of mammals common to the mainland. Beaver are here because they are good swimmers. White-footed mice and chipmunks have made it to the island by methods unknown; raccoons but there are no skunks or porcupines. White-tailed deer were artificially introduced in the 1920’s and have greatly altered the native vegetation. At one time it was estimated that as many as 2,000 deer resided here. With reduced deer numbers, resulting from a managed hunt each fall, the forest flowers such as violets, trillium, and hepatica, as well as seedlings of white pine and cedar can be seen once again.
The island is distant from the mainland, which provides some degree of protection to the native plants from non-native invasive plants. People have accidentally carried the seeds of some non-native plants to the island, and these invasive non-native plants are unfortunately thriving. To prevent the accidental introduction of other non-native plants, such as Leafy Spurge and Garlic Mustard, we ask that you wipe your boots on mats provided on the mainland dock, to remove non-native seeds that you may be carrying. It is also important to inspect your camping gear and clothing for seeds that might be hitchhiking. Plants that become established in this manner are a true threat to the island ecology.
The People of North Manitou Island
The island has seen the heyday of the lumber industry, has known farming, has watched a lighthouse and the U.S. Life-Saving Service come and go, and has been an escape for summer residents seeking solitude. Today,little remains of these activities. A few buildings are scattered throughout the island. Some appear usable while others are in obvious decay. Small family cemeteries are a sign of the time when residents once populated the island. The village area is composed of houses which were once used as summer homes or hunting lodges.
As you hike the island, you will see old buildings dating from the logging and farming days. MANY OF THESE ARE VERY DECREPIT AND DANGEROUS TO ENTER. PLEASE DO NOT ENTER THEM. Open fields, old orchards, stumps and weed-covered two-track roads speak of bygone times. A thorough research report describing the history and development of North Manitou Island – Tending a Comfortable Wilderness – is available for viewing online and downloading.
The Manitou islands are surrounded by over 50 known shipwrecks; a few of these are popular (and protected) diving spots.
The island has a system of trails, the remnants of the island’s unpaved roads. On the west side of the island one may still walk the “old grade” – the roadbed of the Smith & Hull logging railroad. Wilderness camping is permitted throughout the island, and there are several designated camping sites near the ranger station at the dock. Filtered water is available at the ranger station, with limited natural inland water sources. There is one sizeable inland lake, Lake Manitou, suitable for fishing, and another, Tamarack Lake, which is now essentially a cedar swamp. The island is flanked by dunes on its northwest and southwest sides.
Island mammals include coyote, beaver, white-tailed deer, and eastern chipmunk. The raccoon population died out due to disease shortly before 2002. Numerous songbirds and waterfowl can be seen; of particular note is the endangered Piping Plover, which nests here. Bald eagles are commonly seen, especially during spring and early summer nesting season. Garter snakes are abundant on the island. There is an annual deer hunting season to limit the size of the population.
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