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PROGRESS 2020: 45th Parallel offers good climate for hunting, farming, fishing, shipwrecks

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss The fountain in Culligan Plaza in downtown Alpena now has a Christmas tree to celebrate the season.

ALPENA — The 45th Parallel is the line halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

Where that line crosses through northern Michigan not only attracts tourists but also provides temperate climates for fish and farming, and calm waters for preserving shipwrecks.

Several Michigan cities lie close to or on the 45th Parallel, including Alpena, Suttons Bay, Gaylord, Atlanta, Leland, and Bellaire. Most of those cities have markers at or a couple miles away from the parallel. There’s one south of Alpena at Squaw Bay and the most notable one, according to Discover Northern Michigan, is a stone polylith in Kewadin with every county in Michigan on it.

David Fielder, a fisheries research biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, has seen certain types of fish flourish in the cold and fresh waters of the Great Lakes.

Fielder said the 45th Parallel is right in the temperate zone.

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss A swan enjoys the sun.

“The 45th Parallel is just a measure of how far north we are,” Fielder said. “That puts us squarely in the temperate zone and that means we have very pronounced seasons. That has shaped the ecology of the Great Lakes.”

Fielder said the harsh winters made fish adapt quickly and the fish in the area lay their eggs in the fall. The species of fish that are most common include walleye, perch, trout, and cisco.

“If we were farther south, we would have more cintarc species, like bass and bluegills and catfish,” Fielder said. “All you have to do is look at what fisheries they have in the South. If you go farther north, catfish and bass would be really rare.”

If the rising temperatures caused by climate change continue unaddressed, Fielder said, the Great Lakes could look a lot like the southern states in the future.

“If left unaddressed, climate change will make us more like those southern states,” Fielder said. “The waters will begin to warm, and it will favor those warm-water or cool-water species and be a detriment. If we were to become warmer due to climate change, it will make us more susceptible to invasive species.”

Shipwrecks are also common in the waters around the 45th Parallel and the Great Lakes. The fresh water and cold temperatures create the perfect environment for shipwrecks to be well-preserved.

Stephanie Gandulla, a maritime archaeologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said researchers have identified over 100 shipwrecks in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron’s waters off Northeast Michigan. All of the shipwrecks and their stories can be found on the NOAA website.

“Due to our geographic (area) in the heart of the Great Lakes in the center of busy shipping lanes, this is a high-traffic area and historically it led to collisions which lead to shipwrecks,” Gandulla said.

Gandulla said the Great Lakes in general are good at preserving shipwrecks. The fresh water gives the shipwrecks the right environment, whereas salt water would make it a bit difficult.

“Anywhere in the Great Lakes, the cold, fresh water is good for preserving shipwrecks, whether it’s made of wood iron or steel,” Gandulla said. “Salt water on the 45th Parallel won’t be as good in preservation as fresh water on the 45th Parallel.”

Gandulla said the shipwrecks found so far date from 1849 to 1960. The most recently discovered shipwrecks are the Ohio and Choctaw in 2017.

People can go out to see these shipwrecks in many ways, including kayak, a glass-bottom boat tour, and, for the more experienced, diving. However, NOAA has a warning on their website to not touch or disturb the shipwrecks because it is illegal.

Atlanta is an inland city on the 45th Parallel. Residents there have seen significant growth and changes in their town, as well.

Jacob Reed, a member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and resident since 1995, has seen some of that growth firsthand.

He said he can see the differences from when he was a kid to how it is now with his kids.

“I’ve seen a lot of things change, from tourism to a certain kind of tourism, a different variety and more people,” Reed said. “When I started to work in town … I got to see more of that life that comes to town that I didn’t get to see when I was a 7-year-old kid. And, now, we take the kids to the park, where there wasn’t one back then, and take my kids there and see the tourism.”

Reed said he’s seen new shops pop up around town, including one dedicated to Michigan, because of the growth and tourism. Reed also said other towns around them are growing from the new tourism, as well.

Hunting and farming are also growing. Reed said the region offers the perfect temperature for certain plants to grow. With other plants, the growing season is long enough for them to thrive.

As for hunting, Reed said, people come from all over to hunt in Atlanta.

“We actually have people that will come down from Canada to hunt in our area, and they come from the north and the south to hunt,” Reed said.

Atlanta is also known as the Elk Capital of Michigan.

“There was a program that started a long time ago and they picked here and if you follow the 45th Parallel,” Reed said. “They transferred the common area elk to Michigan and they brought some from Yellowstone. We’re the elk capital because it is one of the only places that can thrive where winters are mild and summers are good.”

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