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Even though Manitou Island and Gull Rock are deserted most the year, there are two groups that care deeply for the sibling islands. The Copper Country Audubon Club makes annual spring pilgrimages to Manitou Island to conduct a survey of migrating birds. Much like Whitefish Point to the east, the Keweenaw Peninsula is a flyway for many species of migratory birds, especially raptors. Since 2002 the birders have counted over 184 species at Manitou, including over 1,000 raptors in the air at one time. Monitor their progress at manitouislandbirdsurvey.org. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Gull Rock Lightkeepers battle to keep the precious beacon from sliding into the sea. The effort was started by Peter Annin, a former Newsweek correspondent who now organizes educational fellowships for environmental journalists. In cooperation with the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy the group applied to the federal government to take on restoration of the whitewashed schoolhouse-style light.In the spring of 2005 the transfer was approved, and now plans are in the works to restore it and create a fellowship program for scholars and professionals in the arts. The group imagines a program modeled after the artist-in-residence program at places like Isle Royale National Park. Take a virtual trip to the Keweenaw’s tip at gullrocklightkeepers.org.
Keweenaw Water Trail, an organization formed by dedicated Keweenaw paddlers, has created a waterproof map that guides paddlers along more than 100 miles of Keweenaw coastline. The map offers advice on put-ins and natural features as well as potential hazards so it makes a great trip-planning tool to supplement the more detailed navigational maps listed above. Find the $6 map at the vendors listed at right or order one from the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce. 866-304-5722.
Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor has kayak tours, lessons and rentals as well as maps and free advice from their seasoned staff. You can’t miss them, located on the main drag with the racks of mountain bikes out front. Contact owner Sam Raymond. 906-289-4303. keweenawadventure.com.
Down Wind Sports, with two stores in Marquette and Houghton, has one of the region’s most diverse selections of outdoor gear, supplies and experience. 906-226-7112 (Marquette) or 906-482-2500 (Houghton). downwindsports.com.
Sea Kayak Specialists, operated by certified instructors and world paddlers Nancy Uschold and Sam Crowley of Marquette, offers thorough instruction for complete beginners, intermediates or experts seeking certification of their own. In 2001 Nancy did a solo circumnavigation of Lake Superior. Sam, prior to becoming an instructor, guided on Isle Royale, so the pair has great stories too. 906-250-4238. seakayakspecialists.com.
NOAA weather radio at 162.4 MHz – channel 2 for the near shore forecast for Lake Superior.
NOAA chart 14964-Big Bay Point to Redridge covers the entire Keweenaw and gives water depths plus topographical information. Standard
topographical maps of the area are also widely used for navigation. nauticalcharts.com.
If you’ve got your state park pass, launch from the gravel beach at the Copper Harbor Lighthouse overlook area north of town and park at the Fort Wilkins State Park entrance nearby. Otherwise, launch at the concrete boat ramp at the Copper Harbor Marina west of town. Paddlers can explore the Copper Harbor Lighthouse before venturing east, down two miles of the exposed conglomerate coast to Horseshoe Harbor. The Nature Conservancy preserve at Horseshoe Harbor protects the unique geology of bizarre rock stacks and stone beaches.
Hazards: The rugged shore offers few landings and north winds will create large waves.
Put in at the quaint Esrey Park on M-26 about 8 miles west of Copper Harbor. Paddle northeast to explore two long finger bays with small islands and interesting lakefront cabins. Most of the property here is private so be respectful, but you can hop out at the public Agate Harbor Island, the tiny piece of rock at the tip of the finger that separates the bay from the big lake. A narrow channel near the island lets you slip out to the lake. Then head back southwest to poke around Silver Island (private), and keep a lookout for the remains of two shipwrecks on this route.
Hazards: Exposure from north and northeast winds, though the harbor itself is fairly protected.
A public boat ramp right on U.S. 41 just 4 miles south of Copper Harbor offers access to this Canadian-shield gem of an inland lake. With about 5 miles of rugged shoreline and a handful of small picturesque islands, Lake Medora offers a respite from the more demanding waters of Lake Superior. Look for the public island sporting the county parks picnic table and stretch your legs. Explore the eastern shore or put on some miles and cross to the northwest corner to look for wildlife near a marshy area.
Hazards: Being swallowed whole by the resident walleye, bass and perch.