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Gull Lake is a picturesque 2,030-acre natural lake in southwestern Michigan. The lake most likely got its name from the large number of seagulls that occasionally fly inland from Lake Michigan. Gull Lake is conveniently located just 11 miles from Kalamazoo, home of Western Michigan University, and 13 miles from Battle Creek, home of the Kellogg Company. Dimensions of Gull Lake measure about five miles long and one mile wide. Most of the lake is in Kalamazoo County, with the northern end extending into Barry County. Homes and cottages line the 18.5-mile shoreline; the majority of families are year-round residents.
Gull Lake was formed by glacial activity about 14,000 years ago, when large ice chunks broke off from a retreating glacier. The lake was about half of its current size until 1833, when a pioneer built a dam for his sawmill on the south end of Gull Creek. The dam raised the water level by 14 feet and almost doubled the size of the lake. The large island at the southwest end of the lake used to be a peninsula connected to the mainland before construction of the dam. Two other islands, known locally as the "Hogs Backs," are about 20 feet under water in the middle of the lake. Prairieville Creek at the north end of the lake is the largest inlet to Gull Lake, with smaller inlets along the western and eastern shores. Other sources of lake water include precipitation and numerous springs along the shore.
Gull Lake's updated dam was built in the 1880's. Today, the Gull Lake Association owns, operates, and maintains the dam. The Association maintains lake levels about eight feet above its original pre-dam elevation. The Association draws down the water about eight to ten inches each fall to prevent ice damage to the shoreline, then raises the level to normal elevation after the ice melts. Seasonal alteration of lake levels has been in practice since the 1930's.
Gull Lake grew into a popular summer getaway for wealthy families during the late 1800's. Year-round residences began dotting the shoreline. An electric-powered interurban rail line connected the lake to Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Steamboats carried passengers from Allendale Beach to their resorts and cottages. Dancers swayed to the latest dance steps for more than 40 years at the Allendale pavilion hall that extended over the waters of Gull Lake.
Today, residents and visitors alike enjoy the exceptional water quality of Gull Lake for fishing, boating, water skiing, canoeing, swimming, sailing, and scuba diving. The lake offers up plenty of activities even with the onset of frigid temperatures. Winter ushers in ice skating, ice boating, ice fishing, and ice golf. Although most of the shoreline is private, there are two public access points on Gull Lake. The Prairieville Township Park on the north shore provides a four-lane boat launch ramp that accommodates 70 boat trailers. Another, much smaller access is on the northeast shore at the end of Baseline Road. The Kellogg Biological Station and Bird Sanctuary, owned by Michigan State University, are located on the eastern shore. Two marinas and a golf course are also located on the Gull Lake shoreline.
Gull Lake is noted for its warm water and cold water fishery, managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). For the past century, common game fish included largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, rock bass, and bluegill, with northern pike and walleye less common. DNR has stocked Gull Lake intermittently with rainbow trout, lake trout, brown trout, splake trout, smelt, and landlocked Atlantic salmon. Prairieville Creek has proved to be a successful spawning site for rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, smelt, suckers, and brown trout. Anglers' reports of catches vary over the years, depending on the success of DNR's stocking programs. The largemouth population supports bass tournaments from May through October. Ice anglers report catches of northern pike in excess of 20 pounds.
Gull Lake's 2,030 acres is large enough to support the Gull Lack Yacht Club since 1926. The Club offers sailing instruction and hosts multiple regattas during summer months. If underwater adventure is more to your liking, Gull Lake is a popular scuba diving destination due the clarity of its water. Artifacts have been placed in the lake for divers to explore and practice their skills.
The Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is a 180-acre wildlife conservation center located on the eastern shoreline of Gull Lake. Sanctuary visitors view waterfowl species in their natural habitat, such as trumpeter swans and Canada geese; birds of prey, including bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and eastern screech owls; native Michigan game birds such as grouse, pheasants, and quail; and rare, threatened, or endangered species from around the world. The sanctuary also offers ornithology courses which combine lectures with field trips. Visitors can also tour the Manor House, the summer estate of the Kellogg family from 1926 to 1942. The Kellogg family vacated the premises in 1942 to support World War II efforts, including a rehabilitation center for wounded servicemen. The estate was given to Michigan State University in 1951 and became part of the Kellogg Biological Station. Today, visitors enjoy the restored Manor House and gardens while learning about the philosophy of philanthropy and education of its founder, W.K.Kellogg.
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