Frequented by nature-lovers, picnickers and the occasional skinny dipper, Pickerel Lake is a pristine jewel in the northwest corner of Washtenaw County. This unspoiled paradise is only a 30-minute drive from Ann Arbor. The surrounding area is owned by the State of Michigan and the only access points are a small fishing pier and a sandy beach about 20 feet wide. But this spring-fed lake is in danger of becoming yet another place for powerboats and jet-skiers, with the largest threat coming from the caretaker of the lake itself, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Paul Wong
Josh Wickerham

If the DNR has its way, it will put a boat-launch ramp where the present beach is located. This proposal would utterly destroy the character of this natural wonder, causing pollution from noise, trash and oil. It would also overcrowd the lake and pose a danger to swimmers. Right now the scene is idyllic only rowboats, kayaks and canoes frequent the spot.

Comparisons to Thoreau”s Walden Pond abound, but even Walden Pond had a highway within sight. Pickerel is even more secluded and smaller. Its official size is recorded at 23 acres, though lily pads and marshy areas surround it, so the navigable portions of the lake add up to only 14 acres. Officially, the DNR determines the capacity of a lake with a simple formula: One boat/trailer combination per 15 acres. Pickerel is large enough for one boat. So what is the DNR thinking? How can they waste time catering to a few motorboat users when there are larger problems like pollution and species depletion to face?

Pickerel is one of the last untouched lakes in the Ann Arbor area. It is home to a large variety of fish, including endangered Cisco species, which can only live in the relatively deep waters that Pickerel provides. Despite this, Pickerel is not a great fishing lake, as many species cannot find adequate spawning grounds. Pickerel is also free from Zebra mussels and other invasive species. Adding a boat ramp would increase the danger of invasive species contamination and strain biodiversity and fish populations. It would also destroy the entire beach for casual swimmers.

Additionally, Pickerel Lake is one of a few clean watershed areas for the Huron River, which already suffers from E. Coli contamination. It is imperative that the Huron, one of Michigan”s cleanest rivers, remains relatively free from chemical pollutants. Yet the DNR has continued to push its agenda of opening Pickerel Lake, despite the fact that its plan would add to erosion of the seashore and other pollution.

In January, Hermann Weiss began a letter-writing campaign, which alerted the DNR to citizen concern. Little response from the DNR came of this. Since then, a core group of citizens, called Friends of Pickerel Lake, has mobilized, getting the township of Dexter to pass a moratorium on future development in Pickerel Lake for one year. This is largely a symbolic act, as the DNR has the jurisdiction to override township ordinances as it pleases.

A more fertile area for protecting the lake from its supposed caretaker is through another bureau of the DNR, the Natural Areas Program. The lake could be declared a natural area, free from future development. But this route is also uncertain.

A concerted effort is needed to conserve natural lake areas in the Washtenaw area. The Pinckney-Waterloo Recreation Area is one example of the need for an overarching plan to preserve the Huron River watersheds. Perhaps this can come from a consortium of local and state groups like the Huron Valley Green Party, the Sierra Club, the Ecology Center and the Natural Areas Program.

It is absolutely ludicrous that the DNR would spend resources to push through a boat launch ramp at the protest of an overwhelming number of citizens. There is no ecological need for additional fishing in the lake, as well as the citizen upset there is no logical reason for this waste of time and money.

It is clear that we need a comprehensive way to protect the Pinckney watershed area from the ravages of man. It is also clear that the Parks and Recreation Bureau of the Department of Natural Resources, with its insistence on accessibility to those paying for fishing licenses, is not the organization to do so. It is not enough to be reactive. We must be proactive in protecting our natural treasures, lest one more natural temple be desecrated by bureaucratic shortsightedness.

Josh Wickerham”s column runs every other Monday. He can be reached via e-mail at jwickerh@umich.edu.

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