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One of the best places for lakeside living in Southeastern Michigan is along the lakes and canals of the Huron River Chain of Lakes. Called 'pontoon heaven' by waterway fans, eight main lakes can be accessed by most watercraft, with at least one more accessible only by small boat. Some areas cannot be accessed by pontoon due to low under-road clearances or narrow passages. The lakes in the chain include Little Portage Lake, Big Portage Lake, Base Line Lake, Whitewood Lake, Zukey Lake, Tamerack Lake, Gallagher Lake, Strawberry Lake and Ore Lake. All lakes are residential with many year-round homes. Round-trip boating through the major lakes takes about four hours, covering a distance of 13 miles.
The Huron River Chain of Lakes starts at the north end upstream with 191-acre Ore Lake. This is the only lake that cannot be accessed by larger boats. Just across the Huron River lies the Huron Meadows Metropark with over 1,500 wooded acres for walking, nature enjoyment and cross-country skiing. Downstream, the first fully navigable lake is 257-acre Strawberry Lake. Attached to Strawberry Lake by a wide boating channel is Zukey Lake with 155 acres. Immediately to the west of Zukey is 141-acre Bass Lake. An assortment of man-made canals constitutes something of a maze among all three lakes, but the waterways appear to be well marked. Maps are available locally.
Downstream from Strawberry Lake lies Gallagher Lake with 76 acres, and beyond is 65-acre Whitewood Lakes. Whitewood's name is plural as there are two basins connected by a broad channel. Heading downstream along the Huron River, a channel branches off to little 16-acre Tamarack Lake, while the main river enters Base Line Lake. With 254 acres, Base Line Lake is the home of the University of Michigan Sailing Club. The end of the chain is next with Big Portage Lake, and it's attached to Little Portage Lake. With 644 acres, Big Portage Lake is the best-known lake in the chain and sports a marina, major Department of Natural Resources (DNR)concrete boat ramp, and a locally famous pizza parlor where pontooners are likely to tie up for an evening pizza. Little Portage Lake is the least developed in the chain; its 101 acres are rimmed by wetlands with few homes.
Lucky residents on the Huron River Chain of Lakes can enjoy sailing, power boating, water skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and leisurely rafting. Canoes and kayaks explore the many bays and inlets, while the Huron River is a well-known destination for paddle sports. Big Portage Lake is noted as a sailing destination, but launching from the DNR boat ramp is problematic due to a low road under-clearance that does not allow for masts. Most experienced sailors know they will need an auxiliary motor to get to the lake before they can raise a mast and unfurl sails. Those who regularly sail here join the Portage Yacht Club, a full-service membership-supported sailing club that sponsors regular races and regattas. A marina located near the south end of Big Portage Lake serves as a source for boat gas, repairs, dock space, boat rentals and incidentals. The marina regularly rents pontoons to lake visitors and can provide waterway maps. The marina also rents canoes and kayaks and offers a wide range of classes and tours.
Nearby Ann Arbor offers a wide variety of eclectic food and shopping experiences. In addition to several venues offering art displays and galleries, many of the larger night spots offer world-class entertainment in all genres. The city has almost a dozen museums to visit, including its excellent Museum of Natural History, U of M Museum of Zoology, U of M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, a Hands-On Museum, and even a Museum of Dentistry. Plenty of historical activities grace the area around the city, with historical parks and living history homesteads. Close proximity to both the University of Michigan and the U of M Medical Center and nearby St. Joseph Hospital make the Huron River Chain of Lakes a popular residential area for professionals. Both Brighton and Ann Arbor have many hotels and other forms of lodging, and a lucky few can find a short-term rental on the Chain of Lakes. Campgrounds and bed & breakfasts are located nearby.
The connected lakes aren't the only lakes in the area. The chain's 235 square mile sub-watershed contains 172 lakes over five acres in size and 22,000 acres of wetlands. Although some lakes have problems with aquatic weed overgrowth, all are used for boating, swimming, fishing and water sports. The location is ideal. The lower lakes are only about 15 minutes from the City of Ann Arbor. Ore Lake is only a few miles from Brighton. Nearby is a wealth of recreational public lands, including Brighton Recreation Area, Pinckney State Recreation Area, and Hudson Mills Metropark. Recreational opportunities in the area are the sort that appeal to the larger University population such as nearby Mt. Brighton Ski Hill, canoe and kayak liveries, and plenty of hiking trails. The entire Huron River is a noted smallmouth bass fishery, while largemouth bass, bluegill, northern pike, walleye, rock bass, yellow perch, catfish and other warm-water fish species can be caught. In winter, ice fishing is popular.
The Huron River Chain of Lakes is a part of a large swath of natural glacial pothole lakes spread across southeastern Michigan. Other lake chains exist nearby that are less well-known and farther from metropolitan areas. Only 20 miles to the west, another Portage Lake borders yet another Little Portage Lake in Jackson County with drainage to the Grand River and eventually Lake Michigan. Two Portage Rivers are involved in the mix, leaving no doubt that the entire area was an important water transportation route for early Native American travelers. In years past, much of the fertile muck lands were ditched and drained to raise crops of vegetables for commercial use. Ditching altered much of the natural hydrology of the area, and as most vegetable cropping is no longer occurring, the ditches have been allowed to revert to their natural fens, bogs and marshlands. It is easy to see why early explorers considered most of Michigan a swamp and therefore considered it worthless. Wildlife, waterfowl and birds in the area thrive in this rich tapestry of wetlands, ponds and creeks. Increasingly, the area's true natural wealth is recognized by a new generation of visitors.
Come visit the Huron River Chain of Lakes and enjoy all this waterway has to offer. Explore the areas nearby and prepare to be surprised at the wide array of wildlife and birds which inhabit the areas around the lakes. Only 50 miles from Detroit and the Canadian border, the chain is easy to get to and hard to leave.
*Statistics listed are only for Big Portage Lake. The sub-watershed acreage is for all of the lakes in the chain.
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