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Orchard Lake is a 788-acre natural lake in southeastern Michigan, just three miles from the city of Pontiac and 25 miles from Detroit. This residential and recreational lake is rich in history and beauty. Orchard Lake is a "kettle lake," formed by melting blocks of ice left behind in a deep depression in the earth when glaciers recede. Orchard Lake is unusual for a lake of its modest size, with three islands in its center. The largest is 33-acre Apple Island. Native Americans are credited with planting apple trees on the island, and early settlers named the lake after the apple orchard found there. The Ottawa chief, Pontiac, is rumored to have established a home site on Apple Island.
Although Orchard Lake is a natural lake, a water level control structure was installed in 1968 at the outlet which flows into nearby Cass Lake at times of high water. Lake levels are monitored and maintained by Oakland County for flood control, enhanced recreational use, and property value protection. Lake levels are lowered from winter to spring to prevent ice damage and flooding. Orchard Lake's summer elevation is set at 930.5 feet, and the winter elevation is set at 930.2 feet. The elevation change from Orchard Lake to Cass Lake is just one foot. When water elevations fall below these legal levels, water can be pumped from Cass Lake into Orchard Lake. Both lakes are part of the Clinton River Watershed. From Cass Lake the drainage passes through Otter and Sylvan Lakes to the Clinton River which is dammed by the Price Dam a short distance below Sylvan Lake.
Orchard Lake and the Village of Orchard Lake are part of West Bloomfield Township, noted as the "lake township of Oakland County," because it is dotted with small and medium sized lakes. In fact, more than 40% of this area of Oakland County is comprised of lakes and ponds. Water from two small inlets flow into Orchard Lake on the west side; this source originates in the Rouge River Watershed. A small inlet from adjacent Pine Lake to the east also flows into Orchard Lake during periods of high water. Orchard Lake has two deep basins, a 111-foot basin to the south of Apple Island, and an 80-foot basin to the east of the island. The two basins are separated by a shallow shelf that extends both northwest and southeast from Apple Island. These extensive shoals lie just five to ten feet under water. Native Americans reportedly fled from their enemies by escaping across the shoals known to them but not to their enemies.
The Village of Orchard Lake lies on the southwest shore of the lake with a population of about 2,200 residents. Careful zoning of homes and shopping plazas has retained the garden-like atmosphere of the community. The density of lakefront homes is low, with clusters of homes on the northwest, west, and southeast shores. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provides a public access boat ramp on the southwest shore off Orchard Lake, with parking for about 60 vehicles.
Fishing is a favorite Orchard Lake activity. The earliest fish survey was conducted in 1890. Fish species present in the lake more than 100 years ago were ciscoes, bluegill, rock bass, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, bullheads, and grass pike. During the 1930's and 40's, Orchard Lake was stocked with bluegill, walleye, yellow perch, and smallmouth bass. A trout stocking program, including rainbow and brown trout, ran from 1942 to 1983, at which time the program was discontinued. Today, largemouth bass and panfish (bluegill, pumpkinseed, and black crappie) continue to do well in Orchard Lake. Anglers also reel in catches of Northern pike and smallmouth bass. Michigan's Department of Community Health publishes a fish consumption guide for inland lakes, which includes predator fish such as bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskie.
There is plenty of opportunity for off-water recreation around Orchard Lake. The West Bloomfield Trail is a 4.25-mile rails-to-trails project that winds around the eastern shore of Orchard Lake. The trail is popular with hikers, joggers, cross-country skiers, and bicyclists. The trail meanders through wetlands, woodlands, fields of wildflowers, commercial districts, and residential communities. The Orchard Lake Nature Sanctuary is a 50-acre preserve of pristine land with views of both Orchard Lake and Upper Straits Lake. A naturalist conducts regularly scheduled tours. The Sanctuary is well-known for its blanket of blooming Snow Glories flowers in mid-April.
The Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society is a must-see for history buffs. Founded as the Orchard Lake Scenic and Historical Society in 1974, the name was changed in 1978 to reflect the involvement of the township's neighboring communities. The museum building is now housed in the former Orchard Lake City Hall. Visitors learn about the area's history, including the Ottawa Indians, the Orchard Lake Hotel, the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake, and citizens who had a lasting influence on the area. The military academy, located on the eastern shore of Orchard Lake, closed in 1908. In 1909, the 125-acre campus became the home of St. Mary's Preparatory. Offering beautiful views of Orchard Lake, the campus includes an all-male college preparatory high school, a seminary, and an extension campus of Madonna University in Detroit.
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