This post is part of a series that highlights sections of our forest management plan for Otter Point Woods.

“Buy land, they aren’t making it anymore.” – Mark Twain.

Here’s what might be the most unique thing about Otter Point Woods—it is new land. At the turn of the 20th century, there was just Otter Lake. The Otter River flowed in at the south end of the lake, and out at the north end. The Sturgeon River flowed nearby, and dumped into the Otter River about a half mile below the outlet of the lake. I realize that this might be hard to imagine, but stick with me on this…

Otter Point Woods and the surrounding area looks very different today than it did in the 1840s when the Government Land Office first surveyed it. In fact, much of the Otter Point Woods property did not exist at all prior to the mid-1900s.

Historical survey maps from the mid-1800s show the original course of the Sturgeon River, which flowed westward toward the north end of Otter Lake before curling to the north and connecting with the Otter River downstream from the lake (GLO). The Sturgeon River was separated from Otter Lake by only a very narrow strip of land.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, much of the region was logged heavily. This included the Sturgeon River watershed and surrounding area, and logs from this area were floated down the Sturgeon River to a sawmill located in Chassell (Norcross) .

During this time, the thin strip of land between the Sturgeon River and Otter Lake may have been built up into a levee and reinforced to maintain the river channel. Around 1913, however, the Sturgeon River breached the levee and rerouted directly into Otter Lake (Norcross). This resulted in both the Otter and Sturgeon River waters entering Otter Lake and leaving through the same outlet on the north end of the lake. Increased flows scoured the outlet of Otter Lake and dropped the overall water level by 3-5 feet, and the slower water movement in the lake allowed sediment from the Sturgeon River to accumulate in Otter Lake.

Aerial images from three different periods. Red pin shows the approximate location of the cottage. (A) Photo from 1938: the original channel of the Sturgeon River can be seen running northward into the Otter River while a newer channel dumps directly into the Otter Lake. Black marker traces the original shoreline of Otter Lake prior to sediment deposition. (B) Photo from 1955: The original channel of Sturgeon River is still visible and accretion in the more recent river channel has expanded considerably. (C) Photo from 2011: The Sturgeon River has been diverted so that it flows northward into Otter River again (farther east than the original route) and the sediment accretion in Otter Lake has stabilized and grown into forest.

The deposition of sediment into Otter Lake became problematic relatively quickly. Sediment filled in one of the best fishing areas and a substantial delta formed at the mouth of the Sturgeon River, covering more than 50 acres by the mid-1950s. In the 1970s, the Otter River dam and diversion project was implemented to reduce spring flooding, eliminate silt deposition, and control the lake level in Otter Lake (Norcross). The Sturgeon River was redirected into a diversion canal, which altered its course for a second time; the new (and current) channel is located farther east than the original, natural channel and runs through a continuous river channel rather than through Otter Lake. A dam was also added to Otter Lake to maintain a higher lake level that was intended to be more similar to what it had been prior to the levee breach.

The Otter Point Woods property is located at the center of this dramatic change in hydrology. Approximately three acres of the property is situated on the shore of Otter Lake in the thin strip of land that separated the lake from the original channel of the Sturgeon River. The southern edge of this parcel is formed by the second course of the Sturgeon River which was created by the historic levee breach. This parcel was purchased in the early 1900s, presumably for a recreational property, and the cottage was built along the shore of Otter Lake around 1920.

Photo of the cottage in 1958 from the Daily Mining Gazette. The cottage was built in the early 1920s on the shore of Otter Lake. Image from the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.

The area to the west, approximately 18 acres, was formed from the sediment deposited by the Sturgeon River during the period where it ran into the lake from circa 1913 until the 1970s. Much of the accretion is low-lying wetland, the size of which varies based on the level of Otter Lake.

So that’s how it went. The entire peninsula is fundamentally new land, an area that didn’t exist 100 years ago.

2 thoughts on “Otter Point Woods: Property History


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