Bete Grise wetlands a treasure to be preserved

Keweenaw is full of natural treasures with none more beautiful or ecologically significant than Bete Grise.

If you have ever driven the “south shore” along the Gay-Lac La Belle Road, you have probably noticed the picturesque shoreline of colorful Jacobsville Sandstone, towering White Pines and the sparkling blue waters of Lake Superior. The names Oliver Bay, Pt. Isabelle, South Point and Bete Grise South might come to mind.

What you may not realize is that these beautiful locations are all part of the one of the most pristine coastal wetland ecosystems remaining in the Great Lakes.

The Bete Grise Bay wetland complex stretches from Deer Lake to Lake Superior and around much of Lac La Belle. This area is noteworthy for its dune-swale formation created as the shoreline of Lake Superior receded over thousands of years leaving behind higher sand dune ridges interspersed with depressions.

When seen from the air, the vegetation of higher, dryer dunes contrasts with that of the lower, wetter swales creating an artistic pattern of curving, contrasting lines paralleling the shore. This dune swale formation and the influence of Lake Superior have resulted in a mosaic of habitats that provide food and shelter for hundreds of resident and migratory species.

As a result of its many special natural features, Bete Grise has been targeted for protection for many years.

In 2004, the Bete Grise Preserve was formed after the first parcel of coastal wetlands, commonly known as Bete Grise South, was acquired for habitat conservation and public education and enjoyment.

The Bete Grise Preserve is open to the public year-round for conservation-compatible enjoyment. Activities that may damage the natural habitat such as camping, fires, trapping, hunting (except for limited deer hunting with permission letters), logging, off-road motorized, and damage to vegetation and geologic features are not permitted; However, berry picking, picnics, swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, bird watching and many educational and research programs are all fine.

2014 marks the 10-year Anniversary of the Bete Grise Preserve. Since 2004, the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District and partners, The Nature Conservancy, Keweenaw Land Trust, Keweenaw Community Forest Company and Stewards of Bete Grise have been working with local, state and federal agencies, private foundations and many individuals to protect more of Bete Grise, conduct natural resource studies and enhance the visitor experience. During this time the Bete Grise Preserve has more than doubled in size to include 4,000 acres, 5.5 miles of Lake Superior shoreline and most of the Lac La Belle sloughs.

Everyone is invited to join in a Bete Grise Celebration on Aug. 17 at Pt. Isabelle on the Gay-Lac La Belle Road. At 2 p.m., there will be a short ceremony to dedicate the new additions, Pt. Isabelle, Oliver Bay, Mouth of the Little Gratiot and Bete Grise Wetlands. Refreshments will be provided. The new Botany Trail at Bete Grise South is also open for public use.

For more information call the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District at 482-0214.