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I would like to thank Elmer Engman for publishing the book Shipwreck Guide to the Western Half of Lake Superior. This book is the best bet if you plan to dive the Western Half of Lake Superior. Elmer (The owner of Innerspace Scuba Center see stores list) has compiled the most complete list of wrecks around the Duluth Superior area. If you're planning a dive trip, check this book out. It gives descriptions of the ships before they sank, how they sank, and how to get to them.
For ordering information. Another good source of information is Don Vanispen (I might not be spelling his name right). He owns Lake Superior Divers Supply. He's been around the Twin Ports for quite a while.
Lake Superior is pretty cold for most people. Most people say you need a dry suit. They may be right, but I do just fine with a wet suit. In the spring the lake is about 35 degrees F. By July it gets around 50 deg. F. I prefer diving in the colder water myself because the visibility is much better. October is probably the warmest month to dive, but the weather usually turns cruddy by then. Plus all the leaves in the water can make things kind of murky. Anway, that's my personal observations about Lake Superior Diving. Lastly, I'm a awful speller, and an even worse artist. The maps I've drawn are rough sketches of where the wrecks are. Don't use them for navigation or any thing else other than a rought estimate.
The Madeira - Split Rock Light House, MN
The Madeira was a steel barge that ran aground just north of the mouth of the Split Rock River. Ran aground is a nice way of saying what happend. The Barge was in tow and was cut loose because of the bad weather durring a storm November 28th 1905 (Gales of November!). The barge crashed into the 100' cliff and was sunk. Subsiquent storms through the years ripped the steel hull to shreeds like it was cloth. The hull is in three major portions. The Bow, Stern and Pilot House. The Bow is a pretty small piece located in the debrie field. The Stern is a large chunk. You can swim through parts of the wreck. All of the wholes in the hull were made by storms. The last part is the pilot house. Its the deepest part of the wreck in about 85' or more of water.
The dive is a pretty good one. Its very popular too, because you don't need a boat to get to it. The surface swim can be tiring, but its not impossible. On a weekend, get their early. By 11:00 the small grassy area that people park on will be full. You can park along side of the road, but be sure and pull off the shoulder as far as you can to avoid any complications with the local law enforcement. The trail to the rocky beach is down hill when you arive. Its very rocky and is often muddy. Don't wear you good shoes. The rocks at the end of the trail can be slippery, step off with caution. Once on the shore, look to the left for the golden colored cliff. Thats where the ship struck. The pieces of the wreck are about 25' to 50' from the cliff. The Pilot house is out beyond the end of the cliff. Its not passed the end, but it is farther from shore than the end of the cliff.
The Ely - Two Harbors MN
The Ely was a three masted schooner that sunk in 1896. It was lost while being towed by the Hesper. When the two ships entered the harbor in Two Harbors, MN the tow line broke or was let go too soon. The Ely was caught by the wind and smashed agains the West break wall. The ship was a total loss and left where it sank. Since it was made of wood, there was no desire to re-float it. Its one of the oldest ships on the North Shore being built in 1869.
The Ely is one of the most popular wrecks on the north shore of Lake Superior. It is pretty much intact. The Ice has crushed the upper deck but the hull is in pretty good shape considering its been on the bottem so long. You need a boat to get to the Ely, or you can drive to it if you ice dive. The ice dive I did on the Ely was one of my favorate dives ever. The water in the harbor is crystal clear in the winter. There is a public boat landing right in the harbor for lanching boats. There are out houses for public use as well. Its in about 30' of water. The bottem is sand around the wreck, although it can feel like mud at times. Its a nice dive is the water isn't too churned up. Although its warmer later in the year, making the dive more comfortably, early in the year is probably the best time to do the Ely. If the aglae has been active the visiblity drops to about 5 to 10 feet.
The Hesper - Silver Bay, MN
The Hesper lies inside the harbor in Silver Bay. The Hesper went down in May of 1905. It hit the reef at Beaver Bay. The crew abandon ship and the big waves tore it to shreds. The engines were later removed, but the hull was a total loss. It was built in 1890.
The Hesper is a nice dive. Most of the wreck is in 40' of water. The ice in the harbor crushed the sides of the ship so its split open like a flattened taco. The max depth is around 50' or so. Theres some neat stuff to see and the wooden construction is really cool. You need a boat to get to it because its on the wrong side of the breakwater to swim to it. If you wanted to swim, it would be a long swim, then you'd have to get out of the water and cross the rock breakwater. Not impossible, but not fun either. The wreck is about half way down the break wall.
The Niagra - Knife River, MN
The Niagra is scattered around Gull Island just outside of the entrance to the Knife River Marina (old highway 61). It cost $4.00 to put a boat in at the Marina and you need a boat to get to the island. The island isn't named gull island for nothing either. Its covered with gulls. It might even be a protected rookery, but I'm not sure. Either way, try not to disturb them or they'll do the old swoop and poop all over you. The Niagra hit the reef around Gull Island and was smashed to pieces. There is suposed to be several distinct pieces.
I have only found one of the big pieces. Its really tough to find. I'm working on a map of it. The way I found it was to line the green harbor entrance light on 250 Degrees, and the utility pole on the island (its cut in half) at 320 degress. Go down, and take a 150 degree heading relative to the points I just mentioned. Even then it took us a long time to find it. And had to sweep back and forth a few times. Try to find some one who's been there before if possible. On the up side, there's lots of ship items and pieces to see while your looking for it. Its in about 60 feet of water or so. It can get very dark down there too because the Knife River flows out in that area. After a rain storm, forget it.
The Nature Conservancy's Great Lakes Program
America's Midwest is home to one of the world's most remarkable ecosystems. The Great Lakes contain 90% of the United States' fresh surface waters and 20% of the world supply. These enormous water bodies dominate the region's ecology, shaping its climate, landforms, hydrology, and biota. In the relatively short time since glaciers carved the Great Lakes--only about 14,000 years ago--a tremendous diversity of plants and animals have colonized this rich ecological frontier. In some areas, such as the coastal zone, new species associations developed under the unique influence of the Lakes. As these species adapted, some evolved into new forms of life, further enriching the basin's biological diversity.
Because the Great Lakes basin supports more than one-tenth of North America's population, and an even greater proportion of its manufacturing base, human use has caused serious damage. When nutrient inputs and resulting eutrophication peaked in the 1970's, Lake Erie was pronounced "dead" by the popular press. That image of the Great Lakes has survived in the minds of many North Americans, despite a dramatic rebound in the system's health.
Although the Lakes and surrounding landscape have undergone major changes as a result of human activities, most of the system's special biodiversity still survives in scattered areas--many remarkably large--where the fabric of the ecoregion remains intact. Protecting these reservoirs of biodiversity will be essential to safeguarding the biological integrity of the Great Lakes ecoregion, sustaining its vital ecological functions, and restoring damaged components.
Key Ecosystems of the Great Lakes Basin
Information assembled from Natural Heritage Programs in the states and provinces of the Great Lakes basin identifies 130 elements of biological diversity --- communities, species, and subspecies --- of global significance. Nearly half of those elements are unique to the basin or have many of their best occurrences here. The global survival of these species and communities hinges on their health within the Great Lakes basin.
The coastlines of the Lakes, totalling over 11,000 miles, support much of the biodiversity that is unique to the Great Lakes basin. This sensitive and dynamic interface between land and water is connected to the health of both land and water systems. Because of the tremendous influence of the Great Lakes on every aspect of the coastal ecosystems, most shoreline communities are unique to the basin.
The freshwater marshes and sand dunes of the Great Lakes shores are of special biological importance. They process nutrients and organic material from the land, and make a major contribution to the aquatic food web. Many of the lakes' fish species depend upon them for spawning and rearing, as do large populations of migratory waterfowl for feeding and staging areas. These critical systems are threatened by sediment and nutrient runoff from damaged uplands and tributaries, hydrologic manipulations, dredging and filling, and invasion by exotic species.
Although most large dune systems are within parks and other protected areas, many smaller areas and connecting corridors continue to be threatened by overuse and development. In addition, these systems depend upon the longshore processes of the Great Lakes that haul sediments from eroding banks and tributary mouths to areas of accumulation. Shoreline armor, jetties, and other structures interrupt that process, resulting in sand starvation and loss of the dynamic habitat on which dune species depend.
As the waters of the ancestral Great Lakes fell to present day levels, each phase left a footprint of unique landforms. These former lakeplains now support some of the rarest and most biologically significant systems in the basin, including coastal plain ponds, sand barrens, limestone pavement "alvars", and distinctive prairies and savannas that are among the finest remnants to be found anywhere. Groundwater and fire regimes are crucial to the health of these systems, which are under pressure from land development, fragmentation, and exotics.
The biodiversity of the basin's aquatic communities is not well documented. However, the presence of several fish and invertebrates of global significance suggests that these systems support biodiversity significant in its own right. We need to improve our ability to assess aquatic biodiversity at the community and ecosystem level, and to identify areas vital for its preservation. In addition to the intrinsic values of aquatic systems, they are sensitive barometers of watershed health, and underpin ecological processes essential to many of the basin's unique species and communities.
The Role of The Nature Conservancy
By focusing on key systems described above that support much of the special biodiversity of the Great Lakes ecoregion, and carefully coordinating our protection activities, the Conservancy is working on-the-ground in strategic areas to address the principle threats to the basin's globally significant biodiversity. This work will lead to new tools and partnerships that enable the basin's human communities to meet their economic needs in ways compatible with the health of the basin's biological systems. We are also working closely with heritage programs to improve our targeting of biologically important components, and with partners in the scientific community to expand our knowledge of how key ecological systems function to sustain them.
Because biodiversity of the Great Lakes ecoregion is so widely dispersed and its ecological systems so interdependent, knowledge gained from successful local projects must be leveraged to support biodiversity conservation activities throughout the basin, including Canada. The Conservancy is working to improve sharing of information on important biodiversity features and their ecological needs, assisting partners in applying effective tools and strategies, and fostering political and financial support for biodiversity protection among major institutions in the basin.
The focus of these efforts is our vision for a healthy Great Lakes ecosystem that is rich in the basin's special biological wealth, sustained by intact ecological processes and a basin-wide conservation ethic that is deeply rooted in political institutions and the public consciousness.
Major Great Lakes Projects of The Nature Conservancy
Based on our scientific analysis of biodiversity in the Great Lakes basin, The Conservancy has launched a portfolio of conservation projects that are serving as "learning laboratories" for locally based ecosystem scale conservation. These projects focus on unique features of the Great Lakes' coasts, lakeplains, and tributary systems, and are located in areas that the network of Natural Heritage Inventory Programs have identified as supporting some of the best assemblages of globally significant species and communities in the entire basin.
Kakagon Sloughs in Wisconsin, on Lake Superior- Covering some 16,000 acres, the Kakagon Sloughs are the finest remaining freshwater estuary on the upper Great Lakes. This nearly pristine wetland is the ancestral home of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who rely upon the marshes for subsistence hunting and fishing and traditional wild-rice harvest. In partnership with the Bad River Band, the Conservancy is working with agriculture and forestry interests in the larger watershed to protect the biological and cultural values that depend on this remarkably pristine ecosystem.
Fish Creek in Indiana and Ohio, in the Lake Erie watershed This winding stream in the upper watershed of the Maumee River supports one of the most outstanding assemblages of freshwater mussels and native fish in the entire Great Lakes drainage. In addition, it supports the world's last known population of the White Cat's-Paw Pearly Mussel. Runoff of sediment, nutrients and chemicals from agricultural practices increasingly threaten this rich aquatic system. In partnership with local farmers, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and State and county agencies in Ohio and Indiana, the Conservancy is working to restore forest cover along the stream corridor and to encourage agricultural practices that minimize impacts on the stream ecosystem. Tom Bechman, describing the project in the magazine "Prairie Farmer," writes that "You can see the future of conservation from here."
Northern Lake Huron Shoreline in Michigan - In this 80-mile stretch of superb Great Lakes shoreline, the Conservancy is working with local citizens and governments to create a "conservation corridor" that protects pristine beaches and wetlands, maintains scenic and recreational values for which the area is renowned, and encourages compatible development of the fishery-based tourism economy. This ecosystem extends into Ontario's Manitoulin Island, where the Conservancy is working with Canadian partners to help identify critical areas for the protection of an unusual limestone pavement ecosystem called "alvar," that is unique to the Great Lakes ecoregion.
Oak Openings in Ohio, in the Lake Erie watershed - Some of the Midwest's finest remaining oak savannas lie on the ancestral lakeplains of the southern Great Lakes, where sandy soils and high water tables have thwarted human development. An outstanding example of this ecosystem lies just southwest of Toledo, where development pressures--residential, commercial, and industrial--and airport expansion pose mounting threats to one of the finest areas of oak savanna in the Great Lakes ecoregion. The Conservancy is building its partnerships with county agencies, the Airport Authority, Ohio DNR, Toledo MetroParks and local residents to ensure the protection of this globally significant ecosystem.
Eastern Lake Ontario in New York - The eastern shore of Lake Ontario supports wetland, dune, and bedrock ecosystems of outstanding biological significance. Tourism and recreational development play a major role in the local economy, but also pose serious threats to the ecosystems that support those economic activities. Here, the Conservancy is growing its partnerships with local citizen organizations, local governments, a regional planning authority, and state agencies to fashion a cooperative, conservation initiative that will ensure the survival of this highly significant ecosystem.
Southern Lake Michigan Lakeplain in Indiana & Illinois - Formerly a rich complex of lakeplain prairie, savanna, and wetland, this region is still a "hot spot" of biological diversity, despite extensive urban and industrial development. To protect and restore the rich and often overlooked biological heritage of this region, the Conservancy is building a network of citizen volunteers, and building on partnerships with grassroots organizations, local governments, and private industry to cultivate local pride in this remarkable heritage and foster a commitment to protecting it.
Door Peninsula in Wisconsin on Lake Michigan - The Door Peninsula supports pristine wetlands, key fish spawning habitat, sand dunes, and a large number of rare species. It is also a refuge for large numbers of vacationers from nearby Milwaukee and Chicago. As a result, burgeoning tourism, and residential and commercial development are incrementally threatening the natural resources that make this area special. The Nature Conservancy is working with the Wisconsin DNR, local governments and citizens to ensure that the rare species and communities of this outstanding area are protected.
Through these and other projects, the Conservancy is working to help to develop a series of locally-driven, landscape-scale projects that demonstrate cooperative conservation and hone practical strategies for protecting biological diversity throughout the Great Lakes ecoregion.
Scientific Knowledge to Guide our Actions
To succeed in these ambitious projects, the Conservancy needs not only financial resources, but the best available scientific knowledge to inform our actions. A cornerstone of the Conservancy's Great Lakes Program is a comprehensive understanding of key biological resources throughout the basin--their distribution, relative endangerment, and what they need to survive.
A network of Natural Heritage Inventory Programs is already in place to track the status of key species and ecological communities. These programs were established over the past 15 years by the Conservancy and state agencies to provide pragmatic, scientific guidance for biodiversity conservation. In 1988, we extended this network to the Province of Quebec, and this year created a natural heritage inventory program for Ontario, with our partners in the Ontario government and the conservation community.
The Conservancy has assembled this information--the first and largest amassing of data of this type--and is continuing to build the capacity of the basin's Natural Heritage network to inventory the special and imperilled biological features of the Great Lakes watershed. We are also developing new partnerships in the scientific community to expand our understanding of how the ecosystem functions and what must be done to protect these species features wherever they occur. Scientific projects already underway include:
Inventories of Aquatic Biodiversity - Aquatic systems are key to the ecological health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. Yet the biodiversity of aquatic systems is not well understood. The Conservancy is working with the Natural Heritage network and other partners to develop new methods to evaluate aquatic biodiversity, inventory key components of the basin's aquatic diversity, and identify outstanding areas for protection.
International Conservation Initiative for Unique Alvar Ecosystems - Conservancy offices in four states have engaged Canadian partners the public and private sectors in Ontario to form the first international effort to understand and protect a unique Great Lakes ecosystem type throughout its entire range. Over 30 scientists and protection specialists are coordinating inventory, ecological research and on-the-ground conservation activities to ensure the protection of an unusual bedrock grassland ecosystem known as alvar, which occurs nowhere else in North America.
Basinwide Inventory of Great Lakes Coastal Marshes - A systematic inventory of Michigan's Great Lakes coastal marshes has been extended to the other six states in the basin. Analysis of the data being collected will guide protection of the full range of coastal marsh diversity, focusing on outstanding examples of each type within the basin.
Basin-Wide Coordination and Technical Support
There are far too many important components of the Great Lakes ecoregion for The Nature Conservancy to work on directly. Protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem will require coordinated action throughout the basin by local citizen groups, government agencies, conservation organizations. The Conservancy is working to stimulate this through several initiatives:
A Basin-Wide Information System - This system brings together information from all the state and provincial Natural Heritage Programs in the basin to guide biodiversity conservation work of The Nature Conservancy and our partners. The Conservancy is also developing computerized maps that can be used for detailed planning of on-the-ground protection work.
Basin-Wide Coordination Program - Staff of our Great Lakes Program Office are working directly with federal agencies such as the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Fish & Wildlife Service, and Environment Canada, with state and provincial agencies and with major nongovernment organizations to increase awareness of and commitment to conservation of Great Lakes biodiversity. The Conservancy provides scientific information, expertise, and strategic guidance to our regional partners and helps them identify new and more effective ways to support biodiversity conservation at the local level.