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Michigan, Lake,22,178 sq mi (57,441 sq km), 307 mi (494 km) long and 30 to 120 mi (48–193 km) wide, bordered by Mich., Ind., Ill., and Wis.; third largest of the Great LakesGreat Lakes,
group of five freshwater lakes, central North America, creating a natural border between the United States and Canada and forming the largest body of freshwater in the world, with a combined surface area of c.95,000 sq mi (246,050 sq km).
..... Click the link for more information. and the only one entirely within the United States. Its surface is 581 ft (177 m) above sea level, and the lake is 923 ft (281 m) deep.
The Straits of Mackinac, its only natural outlet, connect the lake with Lake Huron to the northeast; the Illinois WaterwayIllinois Waterway,
336 mi (541 km) long, linking Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River, N Ill.; an important part of the waterway connecting the Great Lakes with the Gulf of Mexico.
..... Click the link for more information. links Lake Michigan with the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Many islands are found in the northern part of the lake; the northern shorelines are indented, with Green Bay and Grand Traverse Bay the largest bays. The southern part of Lake Michigan has a regular shoreline necessitating the building of artificial harbors such as the Calumet Harbor, NE Ill. The Muskegon, Grand, Kalamazoo, Fox, and Menominee are the chief rivers flowing into Lake Michigan; the lake's current tends to clog the mouths of the rivers with sand. The Chicago River formerly flowed into the lake, but its course was reversed in 1900.
The forested northern region of Lake Michigan is generally sparsely populated. The southern portion, located near the heart of the Midwest, is industrially important; the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee urbanized area extends along the southwestern shore. Michigan City, Gary, Chicago, Racine, Milwaukee, and Escanaba are the major lakeside cities. Such urban and industrial concentration has led to growing pollution problems associated with the lake's waters.
Prevailing westerly winds tempered by the lake give the eastern shore a moderate climate, making it a rich fruit belt and popular resort area. Sand dunes border the eastern and southern shores of the lake; Indiana Dunes National ParkIndiana Dunes National Park,
15,177 acres (6,142 hectares), NW Indiana, on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, est. 1966 as Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, designated a national park 2019.
..... Click the link for more information. is there. Ore, coal, and limestone are the main items moved on the lake. The Saint Lawrence SeawaySaint Lawrence Seaway,
international waterway, 2,342 mi (3,769 km) long, consisting of a system of canals, dams, and locks in the St. Lawrence River and connecting channels between the Great Lakes; opened 1959.
..... Click the link for more information. has opened Lake Michigan to international trade. The southern part of the lake does not freeze over in the winter, but storms and ice halt interlake movement from December to April.
Lake Michigan was discovered in 1634 by the French explorer Jean NicoletNicolet, Jean
, 1598?–1642, French explorer in the Old Northwest. He came to New France with Samuel de Champlain in 1618. In 1634, under the direction of Champlain, he took a notable voyage west in search of the Northwest Passage, exploring Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and
..... Click the link for more information. and was later explored by the French explorers MarquetteMarquette, Jacques
, 1637–75, French missionary and explorer in North America, a Jesuit priest. He was sent to New France in 1666 and studied Native American languages under a missionary at Trois Rivières.
..... Click the link for more information. and JollietJolliet or Joliet, Louis
, 1645–1700, French explorer, joint discoverer with Jacques Marquette of the upper Mississippi River, b. Quebec prov., Canada.
..... Click the link for more information. . French missionary and trade centers thrived there by the late 1600s. As part of the bitterly contested Northwest TerritoryNorthwest Territory,
first possession of the United States, comprising the region known as the Old Northwest, S and W of the Great Lakes, NW of the Ohio River, and E of the Mississippi River, including the present states of Ohio, Ind., Ill., Mich., Wis., and part of Minn.
..... Click the link for more information. , the area passed to England in 1763 and later to the United States in 1796. The area was isolated until the 1830s, when improvements in transportation brought settlers there.