Houghton, Michigan Tech and the School of Forest Resources and Environmental
lies in the heart of Upper Michigan's scenic Keweenaw
Peninsula. The campus overlooks Portage Lake and is just a few
miles from Lake Superior. The area's expansive waters and forests,
including the University's 600-acre recreational forest adjoining
campus, offer students unparalleled opportunity for outdoor recreation.
has a population of 7,400 residents. The University's more than
6,600 students from many states and foreign countries make the
area a vibrant multicultural community. Houghton is rated the
safest college town in Michigan and the eighth safest in the nation.
It also has been called one of the nation's top-ten summer sports
areas and one of the top-ten best places in the country to live.
University, founded in 1885, has gained worldwide recognition
for innovative education and scholarship. Our
students receive intensive, advanced instruction and the opportunity
to pursue wide-ranging research. We prepare students to create
the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at
Michigan Tech or visit the School
on the web.
Landscape of the Keweenaw Peninsula and Surrounding Area
climate of the Keweenaw Peninsula is strongly influenced by Lake
Superior and is typified by a long cool growing season and heavy
lake effect snowfall. Average annual precipitation is 32 inches,
which includes 140 to more than 200 inches of snow.
The northern half of the peninsula is dominated by erosion-resistant
Precambrian conglomerates and amygdaloidal basalt that form the
steep ridges along the northern half of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
In places, these ridges rise nearly 1000 ft above lake level.
Depressions between the ridges were formed by the erosion of more
easily eroded lavas. Formations of exposed Freda sandstone and
Nonesuch shale are common along the northern half of the Peninsula.
The southern half of the Peninsula is underlain by Jacobsville
sandstone (formed at the Precambrian-Cambrian juncture (~600 million
ybp). This red sandstone with striking cream colored streaks was
mined extensively as a building material and graces many of the
historic buildings in the region. The western edge of Keweenaw
Bay is flanked by extraordinary Jacobsville sandstone cliffs.
These cliffs are best viewed from the bay, but are also accessible
from pull-offs along US 41 South of Chassell, MI.
Steep ridges of exposed bedrock rise several hundred feet above
the broad plateau of the adjacent broad ground-moraine ridges
along the eastern half of the peninsula. High cliffs occur on
the south faces of these ridges of bedrock. Narrow wetlands are
found in many of the depressions between the parallel ridges of
resistant conglomerate and amygdaloidal basalt. At the foot of
ridges, the landscape is strewn with boulders. A thin band of
sand lake plain extends along the Keweenaw Bay shoreline for approximately
25 miles. Small sand dunes are present along the northern shoreline.
The peninsula is dotted with numerous lakes, shallow peatlands,
and extensive wetlands. Several rivers and streams also meander
across the flat sand plain and down the steep ridges, including
the Montreal and Tobacco rivers.
The soils along the western side of the peninsula are typically
rocky, red sandy loams and silt loams. Common soils orders are
Haplorthods and Fragiorthods. The eastern half of the peninsula
is typified by gravelly sands and sandy loams. Soils of the uplands
are typically well-drained, acidic, loamy sands and sandy loams
derived largely from the underlying Jacobsville sandstone and
shale. Soils tend to be rockier in the north. Soils on abandoned
lake terraces are often rocky and poorly drained
Red pine, white pine, red oak, and paper birch grew on the thin
soils of the bedrock ridges. Krummholz communities, resulting
from strong winds and heavy snow, are found on exposed knobs along
Brockway and Lookout Mountains. Similar communities can also be
found on Silver Mountain, which is south of Baraga, MI, and the
Huron Mountains west of Marquette. Northern hardwood forests,
dominated by sugar maple and hemlock, were common in sheltered
bedrock valleys and tills and sandy ground moraines. Hemlock reached
its greatest dominance along the shore, but was also common in
sheltered bedrock valleys and uplands with thin till or ground
conifer swamps composed of black spruce, northern white-cedar,
and tamarack occurred on poorly drained sites throughout the peninsula.
Peatlands dominated by stunted tamarack and black spruce were
also common, especially along Keweenaw Bay. Many of these were
filled in during the mining boom, but several areas still remain.
Lac La Belle, which is one of the larger lakes on the peninsula,
is surrounded by an extensive shallow peatland.
Wind is the dominant disturbance agent on the peninsula, with
large-scale events (winds > 180 km/h) occurring approximately
every 2000 y. The cool, mesic climate has precipitation evenly
distributed throughout the year, restricting the occurrence of
fire, even though fuel loads can be high.
to extensive logging, the peninsula is currently covered by second-growth
forests, dominated by early- and late-successional plant communities.
Trembling aspen-paper birch forests are wide-spread in areas of
recent disturbance on soils ranging from moderate to high availability
of water and nutrients. Extensive sugar maple forests occur throughout
the region on better soils (e.g. moraines), and can be maintained
indefinitely through a silvicultural system based on selective
logging and natural regeneration. The region is renowned for the
quality of its hard maple that is widely used to produce hardwood
flooring, including NCAA and NBA basketball courts. Birdseye and
curly maple, are especially prized. Poorer soils (glacial outwash)
host red pine and jack pine ecosystems that are fire-adapted.
Many of these areas were covered by extensive old-growth white
pine forests that fueled the logging boom (and resulting fires!)
of the late 1800's. Large charred stumps are still an important
component of coarse woody debris in many contemporary forests:
silent witness to this destructive period of logging history.
few scattered groves remain on the peninsula, including Estivant
Pines Nature Sanctuary located north of Copper Harbor. Lowland
mesic sites are dominated by northern white cedar, spruce-fir,
hemlock, or tamarack ecosystems, depending on soil reaction and
hydrology. Most of the forests on the peninsula were cleared during
successive logging and mining booms in the region. The recovery
of these forests is a testament to the resilience of the eastern
forest. The capacity for resilience will undoubtedly prove important
to sound forest management and protection of ecological function
in the face of environmental and social challenges of the 21st
century. Numerous artifacts and structures from the copper boom
are still evident on the landscape and many mine spoil areas have
been slow to recover. During the mining boom, numerous costal
wetlands were inundated with mine tailings and stamp sand.
here for information on the regional landscape ecosystems
of the Upper Great Lakes region.
Links to Local Natural Areas
Islands National Park
Royale National Park
National Historic Park
areas on the Ottawa NF, including Sylvania
Mountains Wilderness State Park
Rocks National Lake Shore
National Wildlife Refuge
a complete listing of state parks and recreation areas click
visitor information and attractions click