- Published on Monday, 04 March 2013 11:43
- Written by Mike Hughes
Michigan is like no other State in the Union when it comes to diving. The territory of Michigan might have become just another medium sized state had it not been for the Toledo War with the U.S. State of Ohio. In exchange for giving up its rights to a small strip of land not much bigger than a white border line on a map along with the city of Toledo to Ohio, Michigan not only attained statehood, but in the compromise was given an enormous strip of land right above present day Wisconsin. With the addition of this strip of land, Michigan became the largest state in total square foot area east of the Mississippi River, the only State consisting of two peninsulas, and the only State to share borders with four out of the five Great Lakes.
It is said that Michigan contains close to 65,000 lakes and ponds and that you are never more than 6 miles from one of these water sites, and 85 miles from a great lake. Driving from the airport into Grand Rapids is a good place to look for ducks in the ponds between the buildings and office centers. Grand Haven and the sandy shores of Lake Michigan are a mere 25 minutes away from Grand Rapids.
Needless to say, Michigan has to be the number one king of freshwater dive destinations in the U.S.A. Over the last 200 years, hundreds of ships have come to rest off the shores of Michigan. Ships were lost in storms, torn open by ice, burnt to the waterline, sustained sudden death by colliding with other vessels, abruptly beached while trying to keep from sinking due to leaks, ran into rocks due to faulty rudders, faulty maps, faulty judgment, and a great repeated deal of tragic human error and exceptional bad luck.
Despite this notorious history, however, diving in Michigan offers great visibility. “I think for divers who have never been here before, what would surprise them most is the visibility, which can often be between 50 and 100 feet,” states Chris Colombo of Colombo Scuba Adventures. “If you’re a diver and have not hit Michigan’s Great Lakes, it’s a must!”
Since the 1950s divers have been collecting artifacts from some of these wrecks, but in 1980 the Michigan Underwater Preserve System was enacted by the legislature and the support of divers who wanted these wrecks to remain intact so that future generations of divers could enjoy these historic monuments too. It is currently a felony to remove any item from the wrecks in some 13-preserve areas that include some 209 wrecks and 2,300 square miles of substrate. Anyone caught removing a porthole, lantern, or spoon, can receive up to two years of imprisonment and a large benthic fine. Because of this enactment, you can dive on a wreck and see tools still on a bench, artifacts resting where they went down with the ship, and cargo holds still full of coal, lumber, and other goods from a time long passed by. The water temperature of 40-60 has helped keep preserve these historic sites.
For a complete list of all the known preserve area wrecks check out A Diver’s Guide to Michigan Underwater Preserves or go to www.michiganpreserves.org. Near Alpena, Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve has the highest density in any preserve with a total of 27 documented wrecks and close to another 80 wrecks still in the discovery process. The Mackinaw rests in 6ft of water and the Pewabic from 148 ft -168 ft. The south east side is also home of limestone walls and reefs. Recreational dive trips on charter boats out here may include 2 - 3 dives per day and this area is only 4 hours north of Ann Arbor.
Whitefish Point on Lake Superior has some of the deepest wrecks so when you dive with charters here, they may require you to be an advanced diver with at least an extra redundant 13cf pony bottle of air or double tanks. Whitefish is home to 28 documented wrecks of which four are in 10 ft of depth, and the Superior City is 190-270 ft deep. Intermediate and advanced divers have several wrecks to choose from, but seven of the wrecks are strictly for Technical divers.
The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve has 13 wrecks, two of which have the bow region separate from the stern. The 600ft long freighter Cedarville resting in two pieces down at 105ft is the third largest wreck in the Great Lakes.
Isle Royale National Park is only 20miles from Minnesota and Silver Bay, so expect to see summer charters up here from multiple states. Isle Royal is 45 miles long and has 15 wrecks. Because this is a national park, divers need to register to dive here. The 182ft long freighter America rests in 2ft to80ft and the bow of the 250ft long Kamloops rests at 240 to 260ft.
Keweenaw Underwater Preserve is home to 12 wrecks and more artifacts on Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, and Copper Harbor. Near Houghton there are three breweries that are the most northern breweries in the state. Did I mention that there are over 90 breweries in the state? And that Michigan is the third largest producer of Riesling wine in the country?
Marquete and Alger Underwater Preserves have a combined 21wreck. Manitou Passage, Grand Traverse Bay and Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserves have over 33 wrecks, and Detour Passage, Thumb Area Bottomland, and Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserves have a total of over 46wrecks. The proposed West Michigan Underwater Preserve will soon be coming online with 12 additional wrecks. Two things are certain in Michigan and one is that more wrecks are increasingly being documented or discovered, and more preserves are certainly being created or increasing in area size.
For shore dives along Lake Huron, any harbor such as the abandoned Rock Harbor, Thompson’s Harbor, or other landmarks such as Presque Isle Point and Forty Mile Point Lighthouse are good dive sites.
Now if you like collecting artifacts, then you might like a drift dive down the St. Clair River starting at the Blue Water Bridge with depths of 80ft, or near the St. Joseph River Bridge off Planger Park in Benton Harbor with a max depth of 8ft. What many divers are searching for at these sites are old onion flask bottles from the 1700’s to blob top bottles from the 1800’s.
As for lakes and ponds go, there are several quite popular dive sites including: Lake Sixteen at 85ft max in Allegan County, Baptist Lake at 65ft deep in Newaygo County, Fisher Lake in Three Rivers, Pickerel Lake near Lansing, Orchard Lake in Oakland County, Clark Lake near Jackson, Big Portage Lake in the Waterloo Recreation Area, Spring Mill Pond near Brighton, and Paw Paw Lake in Coloma.
Because there are so many dive sites in Michigan, there is no way to cover them all in one article. Fortunately for you, it is easy to find out more about local diving through one of the 35 or more dive shops located throughout the state. Wolf’s Diver Supply in Benton is one of the oldest dive shops in the country; starting in 1956. With so many dive shops, so much combined diving experience, and so many bodies of freshwater wrecks to explore, Michigan is a top dive destination; I hope you will have a chance to dive and discover this fact for yourself too. Great Dives.
|Adventures in Diving
|Michigan Underwater Preserve Council Inc.
|Anchor Bay Scuba
|Northern Michigan Dive Center
|Aquatic Adventures of MI LLC
|Sea the World Scuba Center
|Straits Scuba Center
|Great Lakes Dive Center, Inc.
|The Dive Shop MI