Little Lake Lost or What Happens When the Dam Breaks

Discovering a ghost lake in Mackinac County, Michigan.

Writing and photos by Mikel B. Classen

I hit the road today, with no particular destination. That means I’m really susceptable to signs pointing to nearly anywhere. It happened in Mackinac County. The sign said “Brook Trout Pond Landing.” I really do stick my nose into just about anything, so I headed down the two-track the sign indicated.

This is my first view, that made me go “What Brook Trout Pond?”

I drove about a quarter mile and there was a cul-de-sac that was still a bit mucky from the early season. I could see a small stream running, so I treked down the hill to the water, expecting to see a trout pond of some size. Off to my right there was a large opening in the woods.

The valley of the lost trout pond, it must have been more like a lake.

Across the way is a vast plain of what once was a lake. Apparently, whoever made the sign was using the term “pond” loosely. It fascinated me to think that all of this, not long ago, was under water. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that somewhere out there a dam broke. Likely the entire expanse was at one time created by beavers damming up the small stream that now wound through the former lake bed.

At one time, keeping its head above water, this rise would have been an island in the lake.

As I looked across the still boggy lake bottom to the far side, I saw a small hill with live trees on it. It had been an island at one time.  The ghost lake had been vast and would have been great to paddle. I could see lunch on the island. With a brook trout population spread out across this large a tract, this would have been teeming with waterfowl.

This is the spring that fed the now ghost lake. It flows as it always has.

I turned around and headed back. I followed the creek up stream for a few yards and came to a small pocket of water. I looked around to see where the stream went and quickly realized I was at the beginning, the source of what had been everything around here, a wonderful fresh water spring. I looked back at the stream winding through the brown of the dry lake bottom, running clear and cold. If the probable beavers get to work on the dam break, maybe in a couple of years, this could all be back to what it was. That is how nature works after all.

The forest surrounding the ghost lake is thick and lush, but the ground is boggy and hard to walk through.

 

Garnet Lake – Garnet Ghost Town – A Paddle to the Past

Garnet Lake Campground – Finding a Lost Past in Mackinac County

A Point North

Sunset over Garnet Lake on my first night. It was a fantastic evening. I saw it as a good omen.

I came here on a whim. I didn’t know what to expect. The sign, “Garnet Lake State Forest Campground” had an arrow pointing down a sideroad. Those are the kinds of things that arouse my curiosity when I am cruising the U.P. I had never heard of the place which added more incentive.  What I found was a little known secret place revealed.

It was remote yet there were a few residences I passed on the way in. When I drove into the campground, there was only one other camper. I spotted a shoreline site which drew me in. Surrounded by pines and hardwoods, the campsite was comfortable and spacious.

The campsite at Garnet Lake as twilight sets in and the beginning of a glorious sunset.

What I saw before me was a beautiful little lake. Flat and serene, cattails along the edges, it was the quiet place I had been looking for. I pitched my tent near the shore and unloaded my kayak. The small lake was an ideal place to paddle. That would be tomorrow’s fun. In the meantime I set up my camera on a tripod. I was on the east end of the lake and had an ideal view of the upcoming sunset. Already the sky was beginning to tint. It was the beginning of what would be a spectacular sunset.

Morning mist on Garnet Lake rises and moves to the quiet breeze.

The campground here is nice, but basically primitive. Though you can camp here with camper or trailer, there are no hookups, so it needs to be self sufficient and functional off-grid. The entire time I was here, there were only two other campers.

When I arrived, I knew nothing about Garnet Lake and the immediately surrounding area. I thought it was just a remote campground, but I was about to find out exactly how wrong I was.

Kayaking Garnet Lake is not only fun but chances of seeing some wildlife is good. This is a beaver lodge I paddled past.

It all began with my Kayak. It was a beautiful day and I couldn’t wait to get out on the water. There was a light breeze which kept the bugs away on the water. I began to paddle and the water was very clear and the bottom could be seen easily. I paddled near the reeds where I had seen flashes of red moving through them. They were dragonflies, thousands of them, bright red and flying everywhere. They moved so quickly it was nearly impossible to get a picture of them. It made me wonder if these were the reason for the name “Garnet” lake.

The garnets of Garnet Lake. These red dragonflys flit and fly everywhere around the water.

I paddled out towards the deeper part of the lake. I kept looking at the bottom. It was so clear that everything was visible. As I paddled towards the west end, I started seeing trees on the bottom, large trees. Then I saw they’d been cut. The trees were saw logs. Garnet Lake had been at one time a sawmill pond. There could be no other conclusion. That meant that this had been a stream at one time and had been dammed to hold logs for a mill. I paddled to where it looked like there might be a stream outlet. I found it, but it was brushy, grown over and small, so I couldn’t take the kayak further. It was just too much of a mess, so I turned around and headed back to camp, but now I was really thinking about what my paddle on the lake had revealed.

Somewhere down that creek should be the ruins of an old sawmill, maybe even more, like a ghost town or logging camp. Being a historian, the more I thought about this more intrigued I became. It was time to take a hike.

The ruins of the old sawmill at Garnet ghost town.

I grabbed my camera, some water and snacks and headed around the lake. The first thing I came to was the railroad which was still being used, though I hadn’t seen or heard a train since my arrival. The tracks shined with little rust. I turned west towards where I knew the sawmill creek exited the lake. It wasn’t long before I saw how right I was. First was the ruins of the old mill, then the remains of the old town of Garnet, Michigan. I realized the railroad was paralleling a black-top highway which I hadn’t realized was there either. It was H-40 which runs between US-2 and M-28. Garnet is between Rexton another ghost town and Engadine. To get to the lake I had taken a backroad from US-2 and had completely missed Garnet, the ghost town. There were remnants of the old town still standing while a few of the houses were still occupied, though Garnet today has little resemblance to Garnet of the past.

Old homestead near the sawmill. This is another remnant of the days of the ghost town.

Originally called “Welch,” The town of Garnet at one time had around 500 residents. There was a sawmill which produced mostly shingles. A general store and hotel was there along with a harness maker. There was a saloon, a boarding house, school, and a doctor. They even had their own Justice of the Peace.

This is a historical photo pf the old post office of Garnet.

1897 is the first year Garnet appears on a census showing 500 residents. The population would decline beginning in 1910. In 1915 there was only 150 people left. By World War II, there were just a few houses and a sawmill operating there now making handles for axes, shovels and hammers. The sawmill operated until at least the late 1970’s but now is a crumbling ruin.

Hubie’s Place, not sure what that was, but it sounds like it was a good time.

The layout of the town is still visible and a couple of the old original buildings can be seen, some empty, a few still being lived in. As I walked, I was pleased with myself for having deduced the old town had been here from the clues from my paddling. If I had come in from the north, M-28, I would have seen the remains of the town first and knew it was there from the beginning. But I hadn’t and I felt I had solved a mystery, added an extra layer to my stay at Garnet Lake.

The crossing at the railroad and H-40 where the heart of Garnet was. A couple of homes still occupied can be seen.

Back at my campsite I was treated to another nice sunset. I would have to leave in the morning, but it had been an adventure of discovery. I would go back now and learn more about the little place named Garnet.

This is an old deserted mansion at the ghost town of Garnet.