Lake News


A worrier's guide to living on Lake Mitchell -- 2021

Dave Foley

 

There's not much to be concerned about if you're spending time on or around Lake Mitchell. But people do worry so I thought I'd address some common concerns.  

Algal blooms – More often in Lake Cadillac, but occasionally in Lake Mitchell the water turns green, a scummy pea soup green. This results from the presence of blue-green algae. 

Blue-green algae can be toxic and has been known to kill pets that drink it. It can produce neurotoxins that cause health problems including  itchy skin, runny eyes, asthma like symptoms or gastrointestinal problems.  If you feel that you might be suffering the effects of an encounter with an algal bloom, seek medical attention. If algae is discoloring the water, keep pets and yourself out if it. Although there are occasionally algal blooms, No cases of bloom-related health problems have been documented in the Cadillac area. If there was a bloom of toxic algal, it would be noted in the Cadillac News and EGLE may shut down beaches.

Warming weather patterns in recent years may contribute to the appearance of algal blooms. Nutrients pouring into the lake from    fertilized lawns on the lakeshore or storm drains in Cadillac feed the bloom. Shoreline residents are encouraged to plant a buffer of plants along the shore to catch nutrients flowing from lawns.  

Zebra mussels -These invasive shells probably arrived in our lakes on the bottom of a boat about ten years ago. Most are smaller than a thumbnail and are painful if stepped on as their sharp edges can cut feet. Although found in Lake Mitchell, primarily on the southeast side of the lake, they are more numerous in Lake Cadillac. These sharp mussels cling to rocks, woody debris, and dock stanchions. Wearing neoprene water shoes can offer some protection for your feet. 

Swimmers' itch - The parasite that causes swimmer’s itch uses ducks and snails as hosts before infesting humans. Children often are most affected because their skin may be more sensitive, and they spend time playing in shallow water where the swimmer’s itch parasites are more concentrated.

Infected swimmers may notice red spots within a half-hour of leaving the water. These spots may enlarge for the next 24-30 hours and may itch for a week. Toweling off may help. Others find protection by applying baby oil before swimming or taking a shower after leaving the water.

By not feeding ducks, not only will you help prevent the spread of swimmer’s itch but, if fed, ducks (and geese) will congregate in that area leaving copious among of duck poop on lawns and docks.

Swimmer's itch is not as common as it once was, but last summer there were a few cases.

Chemical treatment – Since the late 1980s Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac have used chemical treatments to control the  invasive Eurasian watermilfoil. In recent years less than 100 acres of Mitchell's 2500 acre area have been treated. Chemicals are also used to treat areas in coves and the Torenta Canal where native weeds make it difficult for boat travel. The first priority in selecting herbicides for use is “Do no harm.”  All treatments are made with product that is not harmful to humans  or negatively effects the food chain used used by fish or other aquatic life.

Several times a year Restorative Lake Sciences, the consulting company that we hire to administer our aquatic vegetative program, analyzes lake samples to make sure water quality is not being harmed by treatments.  A more detailed overview of the aquatic vegetative program is found on our website www.lakemitchell.org.

Underwater hazards – Last year water levels stayed high for much of the season, but in dry years, rocks show up in shallow areas to damage boat motors.  Out from the Canal to the west and north, the water is shallow and there are prop eating rocks. As you enter Mitchell either head straight out or swing to the southwest into deeper water.  

Be careful when near reed beds on the west and south side of the lake as there are some rocks as well as shallow water.

Weeds often clog parts of Little Cove, Franke Coves, and the back end of Big Cove as well. These may bog down motor boats and clog the intakes of personal watercraft. The entry to South Franke Cove is shallow. 

Docks – Most years the lakes freeze sometime in late November to early December. Be sure and make arrangement to have your dock out as the spring breakup will often crush docks that are left in the lake. Typically the lakes open up around the second week of April.

Duck hunting – Duck hunting is legal on Lake Mitchell during the season which runs from the first week of October through the second week of December. Shooting begins at dawn and ends at sunset.  Hunters must be at least 450 feet from occupied dwellings. 

Bass Tournaments - Between the opening of bass season on Memorial Day weekend and into September, Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac will host a couple dozen tournaments. Tournaments start between 6 and 8 in the morning and usually run until mid- afternoon. The number of boats can range between a dozen and a hundred. 

Depending on the tournament, anglers can keep between one and five fish  per boat. All fish are released at the end of the tournament. Virtually all fish survive the release. Points are deducted for fish that die or appear sick. You might enjoy watching a tournament weigh-in 

It is likely you will see boats casting lures under your dock and boats on lifts. That's where the fish are. Although it may be disturbing to see fishermen hovering close to your dock, they can legally do that as long as they don't trespass on your property.  

Lost and found – Windstorms can blow float toys, deck chairs, and kayaks into the lake. If you lose something or find something  email lakemitchellboard@gmail.com  with a description of the item. Every week or so I will send out a mass email describing lost and found items as well as details about lake treatments and Lake Mitchell Improvement Board meeting information. Send us an email with your address and we will put you on our mass email list. Last year we reunited quite a few  folks with their lost items. If you find a drifting motor boat,call the State Police with the boating registration number.

Bears and Raccoons – Bears and raccoons are common in the Lake Mitchell area. They are shy and will usually run away when seen. But they are attracted to bird feeders and trash. In early spring, bears emerge from hibernation and raccoons wake up from their winter sleep. These animals are active until they head for their dens when winter arrives, they will be looking for accessible food. Bird feeders should be put away each night when bears and raccoons are active.  Unless a trash bin is closed tightly, it may be ravaged by hungry critters that come after dark. It is best not to leave trash out overnight.

Snapping turtles – Especially prevalent in the coves, snapping turtles are commonly seen. They pose no threat to humans, unless you stick your fingers near its mouth. However, they will prey upon fish left on stringers in the lake. I made that mistake. After tying up a pike overnight, I found only the fish head the next day.    

Leeches – Yes, there a few leeches in Lake Mitchell. Not nearly as many as there were thirty years ago. If one attaches itself to you, sprinkle some salt on the leech and it will curl up and fall off.    

Canada geese  - Among the first waterfowl to return to the north and among the last to leave, You can plan on sharing the lake with Canada geese from early April until November. When they visit your yard, they will definitely defecate there. The poop is fertilizer but not what most need or want on their lawn. One way to discourage geese is to string a trip line along your lakeshore. While these may be effective, geese often still find a way onto your property.  

A better solution is to create a  shoreline greenbelt by planting a  band of natural vegetation, such as wildflowers, grasses, perennials, and shrubs. These buffer strips stabilize shoreline to help prevent erosion and filter pollutants and sediments. Greenbelts slow surface runoff before it enters the water, allowing sediments, excess nutrients, and other pollutants to settle out. Uncontrolled sedimentation will alter the habitat of crayfish, mayfly larvae, and fish as well as increase phosphorous loads in the lake. Leaving a strip of natural vegetation between your lawn and the water’s edge is one of the best things you can do to maintain our lake’s water quality. 

Lawns with greenbelts along the shoreline are not often visited by geese as these birds fear these patches of vegetation may provide hiding places for predators.

 


A Guide To Living On The Lake -- 2020

With more than 700 properties on Lake Mitchell, at times it can feel pretty crowded. This guide should provide answers to situations residents might likely encounter.

 

Bass tournaments

Between the opening of bass season on Memorial Day weekend and into September, Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac will host a couple dozen tournaments. Our lakes have a reputation as offering some of the best bass fishing in the state. Tournaments start between 6 and 8 in the morning. The sound of dozens of boats racing to the best fishing spots is a common summer wake up call. Tournaments  usually run until mid- afternoon. The number of boats can range between a dozen and a hundred.  This many visitors is a boon to Cadillac's economy as many stay overnight, eat at our restaurants, shop, buy gas and sporting equipment.

Depending on the tournament, anglers can keep between one and five fish  per boat. All fish are released at the end of the tournament. Virtually all fish survive the release. Points are deducted for fish that die or appear sick. You might enjoy watching a tournament weigh-in 

It is likely you will see boats casting lures under your dock and boats on lifts. That's where the fish are. Although it may be disturbing to see fishermen hovering close to your dock, they can legally do that as long as they don't trespass on your property.  Tournament rules prohibit drinking and you will find fishermen are friendly and courteous. They will usually tell you what techniques and baits are catching fish. 

 

Lost and found

Last year it seemed like after every windstorm on Lake Mitchell I would get queries in the Lake Board  email box lakemitchellboard@gmail.com  about lost and found float toys, kayaks, and lawn chairs. I would include information about these strayed items in our regular emails concerning dates and information about herbicide treatments.  Passing on this information helped get many items back to their owners.

This year I will make this a regular feature of our emails which will be sent out about every two weeks during the summer months. If you lose or find something of value, send me a description of the item along with your name, phone number and/or email. 

 

Michigan fireworks law  

The Michigan Legislature passed a law in 2011 legalizing fireworks. The use of fireworks became so widespread that by 2017 it seemed like fireworks displays were occurring almost every week of the summer. The legislature modified the law in 2108. 

Under current law, fireworks may be used on on the Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day weekend until 11:45 PM, June 29 – July 4  until 11:45 PM and July 5 when it occurs on a Friday or Saturday, as well as on the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. You also can use fireworks December 31 to 1 AM  on January 1.

 

Swimmers' Itch

Swimmers' Itch used to be common in the lakes and was caused by a parasite that burrows into a bather's skin causing irritation. The parasite was produced by an interaction between snails and duck feces. Now there are fewer snails and the feeding of ducks has been discouraged so swimmers' itch is less prevalent.  

To reduce chances of getting the itch, towel off after swimming and take a shower. If you get a red itchy rash you may have the itch. It will go away by itself although applying an anti-itch cream will reduce discomfort.

 

Boating hazards

Most of Lake Mitchell's 2500 acres provides safe boating. Yet every year boats are damaged after hitting rocks or running aground in shallow water. Most boaters recommend that when entering Lake Mitchell from the Canal, head straight out or veer to the southwest. To the north or northwest are rocks. There are also several rock hazards lying offshore along the west side of the lake between Camp Torenta and Little Cove. Where there are reeds there is often shallow water. Take it easy in these areas. The entrances to the Franke Coves are shallow. Until you know the lake well, exercise caution when boating.

 

Bears and bird feeders  

Yes, bears live here. The are often seen on West Lake Mitchell Drive by folks driving around the back of the lake. Bears can, and do show up in people's yards  anywhere on the lake. They won't hesitate to demolish your birdseed buffet.  After they come out of hibernation in late winter, they are hungry and will look for an easy meal. Although they generally wait until after dark to visit feeders, they have been known to show up during the day. 

You can continue to feed birds but between March and December. It is best to take your feeders in at night. During winter, when birds appreciate feeders the most,  you can leave them out all the time. If  bears are regulars in your area, it might be better to be a bird watcher rather than a bird feeder.

 

Green belts keep geese away and chemicals out of the lake

Every year several flocks of Canada geese take up residence along the Lake Mitchell shoreline.  When they visit your yard, they will definitely defecate there. The poop is fertilizer but not what most need or want on their lawn. One way to discourage geese is to string a trip line along your lakeshore. While these may be effective, geese often still find a way onto your property.  

A better solution is to create a  shoreline greenbelt by planting a  band of natural vegetation, such as wildflowers, grasses, perennials, and shrubs. These buffer strips stabilize shoreline to help prevent erosion and filter pollutants and sediments. Greenbelts slow surface runoff before it enters the water, allowing sediments, excess nutrients, and other pollutants to settle out. Uncontrolled sedimentation will alter the habitat of crayfish, mayfly larvae, and fish as well as increase phosphorous loads in the lake. Leaving a strip of natural vegetation between your lawn and the water’s edge is one of the best things you can do to maintain our lake’s water quality. 

 

If fertilizer is needed use phosphorus free products

Rain, lawn sprinkling, and snow melt all will wash fertilizers and sediments from yards into the lake unless there is a substantial greenbelt along the shoreline. The soil in the Lake Mitchell watershed generally has more than adequate amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen to grow lawns. You may purchase a soil sample kit at the Michigan State Extension in the Wexford County Lake Street Building in Cadillac. They will test your soil to determine what, if any, fertilizers are needed. If you must use fertilizers, select bags that are phosphorus-free and with slow release nitrogen. If the label on the package has a zero in the middle such as 12-0-20 then you know it contains no phosphorus.

     We must also monitor the use of nitrogen, which is why we encourage decreased use of fertilizers in general. Nitrogen adds to weed growth and algal blooms.

    The Michigan legislature has passed a law banning the use of phosphorus fertilizers that went into effect January 1, 2012. The degradation of lakes caused by phosphorus has attained national attention with several states regulating the use of fertilizers containing phosphorus. Cherry Grove and Selma Townships both have passed resolutions recommending that fertilizers on lakeshore properties be phosphorus-free. The City of Cadillac now uses only phosphorus–free chemicals on its lakefront property. 

 

 Dispose of leaves and yard waste properly

     Although it is tempting to rake your leaves, especially if you have a strong tailwind, into the lake. Please dispose of them in a wooded area or bag them for the landfill.  Leaves that end up in the lakes will sink to the bottom and provide mulch that will encourage weed growth. Burning yard waste near the lakeshore is not a good solution either. Ashes contain phosphorous and nutrients that can easily make their way into the lake resulting in excess weed and algae growth.

      Eliminate loosestrife or phragmites. While these plants may be attractive, they are invasive and harm native wetland vegetation.  These plants should be uprooted and removed.  The seeds  will travel on the wind and water to new locations. Photos of these plants are on our website.

 

Preserving our dark night skies

As our lakeshore gets more populated, more homeowners are installing bright yard lights and shining floodlights on flags. The night sky often appears more brown than black. This is tough on stargazers or those who appreciate the night sky. The glare from your neighbor's outside lights will definitely impair your night viewing. I can understand concerns about safety and safeguarding your home from intruders. What might be a logical compromise for those wishing to illuminate their property would be installing lighting that is activated  by motion.  This would give the property owner light for  moving about their yard and as well as detect anyone that approaches. When no one is about, it would be dark and the stars would be visible.

 

In recent years fewer fireflies have been seen. To mate, fireflies must find each other. It has been speculated that if an area is bathed in artificial light, fireflies cannot see the flickering light of other fireflies.  


What you can do to help Lake Mitchell

1. Use phosphorus-free lawn fertilizer -- Phosphorus, which helps grow green luscious lawns, promotes weed-growth in lakes. Just leaving the last few yards of lawn near the lakeshore phosphorus-free isn’t enough. Studies show that phosphorus reaches lake waters from all parts of a lakeshore lot. Fertilizers have three-number labels; the middle number indicates phosphorus content. The numbers 30-0-4 on a package of fertilizer indicates there is no phosphorus. Without doubt, phosphorus in lawn fertilizer is a major contributor to Lake Mitchell’s weed problem. For more information check our Phosphorus-free page.

 

2. Operate personal watercraft responsibly -- While most operate their Wave Runners responsibly, those who race close to shore, docks, and other boats frustrate and anger lake users. PWC’s must be operated at slow no-wake speeds under these conditions: Within 150 behind boats other the PWCs, in less than 2 feet of water, and all watercraft must be operated at slow no-wake speed within 100 feet of docks or rafts, marked swimming areas, people in the water, moored or anchored vessels, and shorelines.

Fisherman become especially irate when Jet Skis and Wave Runners operate their watercraft in the evening. Michigan Law makes it illegal to run personal watercraft in the last hour before sunset or before 8 AM.

For the DNR's watercraft regulations on Lake Mitchell, click here.

 

3. To help prevent swimmer’s itch, do not feed the ducks -- The parasite that causes swimmer’s itch uses ducks and snails as hosts before infesting humans. Children often are most affected because their skin may be more sensitive, and they spend time playing in shallow water where the swimmer’s itch parasites are more concentrated. Infected swimmers may notice red spots within a half-hour of leaving the water. These spots may enlarge for the next 24-30 hours and may itch for a week. Toweling off may help. Others find protection by applying baby oil before swimming or taking a shower after leaving the water. By not feeding ducks, not only will you help prevent the spread of swimmer’s itch but, if fed, ducks (and geese) will congregate in that area leaving copious among of duck poop on lawns and docks.

More information about swimmer’s itch is found on our website.

 

4. Create a greenbelt -- Rather than maintain a lawn to the water’s edge, consider allowing natural vegetation to grow in the last three to six feet leading to the lake. This will slow runoff before it enters the water, allowing sediments, excess nutrients, and other pollutants to settle out. Uncontrolled runoff will alter the habitat of crayfish, mayfly larvae, and fish as well as increase phosphorus loads into the lake. Leaving a strip of natural vegetation between your lawn and the water’s edge is one of the best things you can do to maintain our lake’s water quality.

 

5. Clean your boat before launching in Lakes Mitchell -- It is quite likely that Eurasian milfoil first rode into Lake Mitchell on a boat. It probably was nothing more than a fragment wound in a propeller or twisted onto the frame of a boat trailer. But once in the lake, in a matter of years, it had created thousands of plants. Although no zebra mussels have been found in our lake, we need to be vigilant in our inspection of boats entering the lake to keep those tiny snails out. The Michigan Sea Grant College program offers the following suggestions for protecting our lake: 

INSPECT your boat and your equipment and remove all weeds from your trailer propeller, anchor, and any other place found on your boat.

DRAIN all water from the boat motor, bilge, live well, and bait buckets on dry ground.

DISPOSE of leftover bait in a trash receptacle, not in the water.

RINSE your boat and all fishing equipment with hot tap water, OR thoroughly dry your boat outdoors for at least five days before traveling to a new lake or stream.

TEACH and help others to do the same.