Presque Isle River
The cold spring-fed headwaters of the East Branch of the Presque Isle River are of exceptionally high quality and relatively unique. The upland forests are maturing second growth that are still largely devoid of large snags and logs, with much of the upland riverbanks occupied by red pine plantations. The proximity of numerous lakes, ponds, and other aquatic habitats scattered throughout make the area especially important for aquatic wildlife. Beaver colonies contribute to the excellent habitat quality.
The South and West Branches of the Presque Isle River have extensive wetland complexes that are scattered throughout the headwaters and the Presque Isle Flowage Impoundment. The flowage was designed specifically for wildlife and has served this purpose well. The wetland values are excellent, and northern pike and suckers contribute to the respectable populations of bald eagles, ospreys, and other fish-eating birds that nest around the flowage. The flowage was one of four release sites for trumpeter swans as part of a reintroduction effort in the mid-1990s.
Once the branches come together to form the main stem, the Presque Isle River becomes wide and undulating as it flows north through wetlands within the Ottawa National Forest; however, on approach to Yondota falls, the river narrows dramatically and cuts through a bedrock gorge. Below the gorge, the river gently undulates again through a wide valley and begins to meander intensely through extensive forested wetlands, uncommon to the area. Further downstream, the meandering, broad course changes to a very straight and narrow valley carved into bedrock. This section of the river is a gorge with a nearly continuous stretch of substantial rapids and waterfalls including Minnewawa Falls. The river corridor provides an especially important connection for wildlife between the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, located downstream, and the Ottawa National Forest.
March 3, 1992. The main stem from the confluence of the East and West Branches to Minnewawa Falls. The East Branch within the Ottawa National Forest. The South Branch within the Ottawa National Forest. The West Branch within the Ottawa National Forest.
The main stem of the Presque Isle flows primarily through terminal moraine, ground moraine, and glacial outwash plains. The landscape up to Yondota Falls is generally gently undulating, and the river flows through many extensive wetlands. Where depth to bedrock is shallow, there are some areas of rapids with bedrock in the streambed and bedrock outcrops present along the stream banks. Where the river flows from Yondota Falls to Copps Creek, the streambed is primarily bedrock. In this short part of the river corridor, there are numerous unnamed waterfalls, rapids, and bedrock outcrops along the riverbanks. After that, the river enters a low relief, gently undulating, and wet ground moraine landform, and the valley widens considerably and begins to meander intensely through extensive forested floodplains. These extensive forested floodplains are uncommon in the region.
The Presque Isle then enters a steep river valley that has been eroded through bedrock outcrops. The meandering course changes to very straight and narrow near Tula Creek, as it is contained by a valley carved into shallow metamorphic bedrock materials. From here to the northern forest boundary, there is a gorge with a nearly continuous stretch of substantial rapids and waterfalls including two named falls. The bedrock also changes here as the river cuts through the Keweenaw Fault.
The East Branch has outstanding populations of brook trout. In addition, this stream and several of its tributaries are home to the Michigan State endangered redside dace. Habitat conditions in this stream are generally excellent. Moderately high gradients reveal gravel substrate and numerous spring-fed tributaries contribute cold water. The redside dace was discovered in a large spring; the habitat most likely to hold redside dace seems to be the same as that favored by brook trout.
The vegetative landscape in the recreational segment of the main stem is unique and variable, alternating along its course between riparian vegetation, upland hardwoods, conifers, and wetlands where stunted black ash dominate. In the river upstream of Yondota Falls, there are some areas of rapids and bedrock. The river is wide and undulating as it flows through wetlands; however, on approach to the falls the river narrows dramatically and cuts through bedrock gorge and boulders of various colors and textures. The falls are spread out in a series and downstream are numerous other smaller waterfalls, rapids, and rock outcrops along the banks. In the lower reach of the river, it enters a low relief and gently undulates again through a wide valley and begins to meander intensely through extensive forested wetlands, uncommon to the area.
The geographic landscape in the scenic river segment of the main stem is dramatic. The meandering, broad course changes to a very straight and narrow valley carved into various colors and textures of bedrock. The majority of the river is a gorge with a nearly continuous stretch of substantial rapids and waterfalls, including Minnewawa Falls. The vegetation type is the common riparian forest upstream, changing to upland hardwoods dominated by substantial amounts of sugar maple. A substantial component of the hardwood forest is large trees. The overall scale of this river segment to its surroundings is unique, showing high contrast and spatial definition.
The West Branch is perhaps the most remote and inaccessible portion of the designated Presque Isle River system, providing an outstanding opportunity for solitude. There are only three main access points—two at developed canoe launch areas next to Forest Service roads and the other at the Presque Isle Flowage Dam adjacent to Highway M-64 south of Marenisco, Michigan. Use of the majority of this segment of river is very low. The Presque Isle Flowage sees moderate use for fishing and waterfowl hunting, despite the Flowage being promoted regionally for wildlife and scenery viewing opportunities.
Wood turtles are known to nest in the sandy areas, and American martens roam the corridor, as do gray wolves. The spring-fed wetland complex at Snowshoe Lake is a valuable cold-water resource, important to otters, fish-eating birds, and invertebrates. One regionally sensitive species of dragonfly, the rapids clubtail, has been found in this segment. The proximity of numerous lakes, ponds, and other aquatic habitats scattered throughout this landform make the area especially important for aquatic wildlife. Beaver colonies contribute to the excellent habitat quality.
South Branch & West Branches
Many unique and rare wildlife species are found at the Presque Isle Flowage, including nesting bald eagles, ospreys, black terns, and pied-billed grebes. The area also supports migratory ducks, other waterfowl, and the reintroduced trumpeter swans; the Flowage was one of four release sites for trumpeter swans as part of a reintroduction effort in the mid-1990s. Wild rice has been successfully planted here in the recent past, providing important waterfowl habitat.
Numerous beaver ponds also occur in the area, with multiple beaver colonies existing on most tributaries. Species associated with these areas include waterfowl, wading birds, otters, muskrats, amphibians, and many rare and unusual invertebrates.
The river corridor provides outstanding wildlife habitats due to numerous oxbow/wetlands, a wide floodplain, and connective corridors for species of national and regional significance. In particular, the upper end of the segment has an exceptionally wide, intact forested floodplain, which is unusual for a river of this size in the Midwest. Beaver colonies thrive in this upper section and provide important hydrologic and biologic functions for the river corridor habitat. This section also supports relatively high numbers of ducks and other waterbirds.
A segment in the middle of the reach, beginning at Yondota Falls, is faster gradient and rocky with plunge pools and a few depositional bars. The wood turtle is known to be present in this faster reach. The short segment furthest downstream is likely used by bald eagles and ospreys. Red-shouldered hawks were documented in the late 1990's, and gray wolves and American marten utilize the area. The area within the river corridor provides high-quality riparian forests, including mature/old growth cedar and hemlock patches, that serve as connective corridors for riverine, riparian, and terrestrial wildlife.