Presque Isle erosion

MARQUETTE – It’s not really an island, rather a peninsula that juts into Lake Superior in the northern part of the city. But when people say they’re going to “the Island,” that means they’re headed to what’s been called Marquette’s recreational crown jewel: Presque Isle Park.

The 323-acre park attracts residents and tourists for many reasons. Some visitors just want to take Peter White Drive around the island in their cars, which takes them under a canopy of trees, past Sunset Point and toward the Island Store.

Some visitors like to watch industry going on at the nearby Lake Superior & Ishpeming ore dock, take photos of the surf splashing against the Upper Harbor breakwall or visit MooseWood Nature Center.

Still others – and perhaps heartier – souls want to jump off Black Rocks into the lake or hike through the wooded trails.

However, with all this varied activity, the park has to be maintained to keep up with human visitors and the wear and tear they, as well as the natural elements, create.

The city of Marquette’s Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee has been looking into issues arising at the park, not the least of which has been erosion, particularly near Black Rocks.

Black Rocks is a rugged area located off a sharp turn off Peter White Drive in the northern section of the island. It is a popular spot for people jumping into the lake from a small cliff, plus it features unusual dark, igneous rock formations on which people can walk for a closer view of the lake.

PIPAC Chair Bob Chapman is concerned about the Black Rocks section of Presque Isle by the parking area, which he said is looking “pretty rough.”

Rock outcroppings, he said, are at the bottom of the area, with dirt above those outcroppings.

“And it’s just all dirt,” Chapman said. “I mean, there’s nothing left there. And it’s going to start really deteriorating.”

Chapman isn’t the only one concerned about Black Rocks.

“It’s really fragile,” PIPAC member Joan Miller said. “It’s really vulnerable.”

The problem apparently has been a long time in coming, as are many erosion-related issues.

“This has been kind of a longstanding issue here,” Chapman said. “You know, erosion rarely goes away. It just gets worse.”

Chapman said he believes the eroded area at Black Rocks used to be covered with vegetation.

“I’m not an erosion expert, but I would say it’s natural erosion greatly aggravated by people climbing on it and ripping up the cover,” said Chapman, who noted the erosion goes all the way to the top of the bluff.

“Not too picturesque,” he said.

And the more it rains, too, the worse it will be, Chapman said, resulting in the possibility trees will weaken and fall.

He said the preferred way to access the lake at Black Rocks from the parking lot is a northeastern route, which, he pointed out, also is less strenuous.

“You get a nice view, but it’s a lot easier terrain to walk on,” he said.

Another problem on Presque Isle is along Peter White Drive between the Superior Watershed Partnership and the park pavilion. Chapman said part of the road slants toward the lake, which allows sediment to wash into the water. However, reworking the road so it slants inland would be expensive, he said, although building a bigger culvert also might take in some runoff.

In addition, nearby is a small dune area that’s blowing away. Chapman said bringing in coarse material and plants to stabilize the dune is a possibility.

However, the Black Rocks area is of particular, more immediate concern.

Jon Swenson, assistant director of community services for the city of Marquette and staff liaison for PIPAC, surmised someone at one time started to climb the steeper route as a challenge or just to explore.

“Now, if you’re not familiar with the area, it seems the way to go,” Swenson said.

Unfortunately, the increased foot traffic causes the erosion. In fact, he noted the Black Rocks problem spot can be seen in a Google satellite image.

So, what’s the answer?

“The city’s goal is to better educate and provide a little bit of a barrier,” Swenson said.

He said the city is considering putting large rocks that fit in with the natural landscape at the foot of the eroded spot. Also, a sign directing people to use the less-damaging northeastern path would be placed nearby, plus another sign would be installed at the preferred entrance.

“Our hope is that’s enough of a deterrent for the folks who think this is just the way to go,” Swenson said.

He said the city Department of Public Works would place the rock barrier and signage either at the end of the summer or after the next snowmelt.

Although Black Rocks is just a small, albeit popular, section of Presque Isle, it’s part of the park’s overall appeal.

Chapman said to him, the water is the most special feature about Presque Isle.

“I’ve always liked the water,” he said. “Superior is just so nice and clean – and cold.”

Swenson also expressed a desire to keep Black Rocks in a healthy condition.

“It’s an amazing, wonderful place,” he said. “We want to keep it that way.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is