It’s the center for drinking water and recreation for millions.
Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press
Lake St. Clair is our source for drinking water as well as a boating and fishing haven
In the summer, Lake St. Clair’s water is a beacon for boaters, anglers and swimmers.
In the winter, it provides a frozen floor for ice fishing and snowmobiling.
Its 31.5-mile coastline offers vistas for homes, wells for thousands of pleasure boats big and small, and jobs at marinas, shops and restaurants, especially in coastal towns such as St. Clair Shores and New Baltimore.
“The lake is important. It gets you out of the house,” said William Welke, 28, of St. Clair Shores as he and his wife fished off a pier at Waterfront Park in Harrison Township in August.
“It’s our drinking water,” said Tiffany Welke, 31, who, like her husband, has spent much of her life on the lake — fishing, boating and swimming. “It’s pretty busy all year round.”
The freshwater lake, which crosses the U.S. border with Canada, is a source of drinking water for more than 4 million people in southeast Michigan. It’s also, at times, the recipient of unsavory materials from drains and sewage discharges — materials that officials are working to reduce to clean the body of water sandwiched between the St. Clair and Detroit rivers.
The Welkes remember swimming closer to shore when they were younger, an activity they won’t let their young daughters do now because of the muck. And they don’t eat the fish they catch. But farther out in the lake, they say, the clearer and better the water becomes.
For years, Lake St. Clair and its watershed provide numerous benefits to millions of residents and tourists enjoying recreational activities. The lake is one of the major recreational boating centers in North America. Nearly 50% off all sport fish caught in the Great Lakes basin are caught in Lake St. Clair, according to a 2004 report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The lake is known for its self-sustaining population of muskie, walleye, perch and smallmouth bass.
A 2014 report by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on the status of fisheries in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair indicated Lake St. Clair continued to be the “premier Michigan water for trophy muskellunge and smallmouth bass.” Rock bass and channel catfish also were dominant species in the lake trap net survey in 2014.
For four days at the end of August, the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament was held on the lake, with a related festival at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. It’s the second time in two years the televised tournament has come to Lake St. Clair, bringing with it more than 100 anglers from across the country and two from Japan.
“Lake St. Clair is one of the best (for bass fishing) in the country,” said Michael Mulone, director of event and tourism partnerships at B.A.S.S. “The fishing is unbelievable.”
But it’s not just the fishing and “beautiful body of water” that continues to lure the tournament to the lake, he said. It’s the community and engagement from the outdoorsmen here. He noted the ripple effect of tourism with an influx of out-of-state license plates at boat launches.
Fishing isn’t the only recreational sport for which the lake is valued.
The 2004 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report also said that recreational boating in the lake contributed more than $200 million a year to the economy of southeastern Michigan.
Nicki Polan, executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association, said he thinks the lake is one of the busiest in Michigan — a state in which boating has a $7.4-billion impact on the annual economy.
Michigan has the third largest boating market in the country, with more than 900,000 boats registered in the state — and that doesn’t include kayaks, canoes and non-powered boats that are less than 16 feet long, Polan said.
Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties have nearly 189,000 of those registered boats, more than 20% of the overall boat registrations in the state.
“The impact (Lake St. Clair) has, it would be significant,” Polan said, adding that many Oakland County boaters keep their vessels in marinas along Lake St. Clair.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel has embraced the lake’s value since taking office in 2011.
He started the Blue Economy Initiative, an effort to improve public access to the lake, clean up its water and those of its tributaries, such as the Clinton River, and expand development opportunities along its shoreline.
“We’ve done a lot, but there is still a lot more envisioned for that lakefront and the river,” he said.
Macomb County to inspect three storm water runoff ditches in St. Clair Shores — ditches that drain directly unscreened and untreated into Lake St. Clair. Looking for E. coli, degradation and illegal sanitary sewer hookups.
Christina Hall, Detroit Free Press
The initiative has improved access to the Clinton River in several communities in the county, adding kayak and canoe launches, and is working on a paddleboat launch in Mt. Clemens. It has improved coastal paddling access at Lake St. Clair Metropark and Burke Park in New Baltimore, said John Paul Rea, the county’s planning and economic development director.
Among its many efforts, the initiative is assisting with the development of a Waterfront Redevelopment Plan and the development of a corridor improvement district in Harrison Township, he said.
Trees which had exposed roots have fallen into the Clinton River from erosion in Clinton Township, Tuesday, August 15, 2017. Heavy rains cause storm and sewer overflow from upstream. (Photo: Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press)
The initiative helped with coastal wetland and beach restoration and a viewing platform with boardwalk at Lake St. Clair Metropark and acquiring three large-tract parcels adjacent to the metropark to help with hydrology mediation.
Macomb County alone has more than 70 active marinas and more than 16,000 boat slips, Rea said. The lake also borders parts of Wayne and St. Clair counties, which are home to more marinas and boat slips, many in the Grosse Pointes.
Rea said there are economic development efforts along the Nautical Mile, which has many marinas, shops and restaurants, in St. Clair Shores and in New Baltimore, along Anchor Bay.
There are even efforts farther inland to plant trees and develop greenway along floodplains in central and northern Macomb County to help the lake and other waterways.
“This is an incredible asset that we have to protect and promote,” Hackel said.
Contact Christina Hall: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @challreporter.
The Detroit Free Press looks at Lake St. Clair
MONDAY – Lake St. Clair’s importance to Michigan
TUESDAY – The champions of Lake St. Clair water quality over the years
WEDNESDAY – The Oakland vs. Macomb county feud over Lake St. Clair
THURSDAY – What are the solutions to Lake St. Clair’s water woes — and why haven’t they happened yet?
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