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Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail: Multiple Day Trip and Circumnavigation of Drummond Island

Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail:

Multiple Day Trip and Circumnavigation of Drummond Island

By Dean Sandell & James G. Kelley


Parking and launching:  Any location on Drummond or the resort you are staying at.


Distance to travel around Drummond excluding entering Bays:  56 miles


Level: Advanced


Time: Multi day trip


The Drummond Island Context


Drummond Island is the center of two significant water trail systems. The Drummond Island Water Trail circumnavigates Drummond Island, while the Island Explorer Water Trail takes in four major islands en route to Lime Island in the St. Marys River.


Drummond Island’s New Map


The newly issued Drummond Island Recreation Map, published by the Drummond Island Tourist Association (DITA) identifies six (6) paddling areas to explore.  The DITA recreation map is a 21” by 29.5” full color map, highlighting the six paddling areas and trails.  It is a must have item for anyone wanting to kayak this area.


The Drummond Island shoreline is about 140 miles around from a starting point to return.  The water trail around the island is series of water links to ‘interest points’ along a sixty mile loop.  The interest points are settings where the experience of the area underlines Drummond Island’s unique characteristics. The links between the points of interest combine to make up the Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail.


When considering the Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail you must visit and review the DITA website, to identify the areas falling inside a circumnavigation route.  The specialized paddling areas include, Cultural, Historical both Whitney Bay and Scammon Cove, Hatchery section on Scott and Maxton Bay, Environmental, and The DeTour Underwater Preserve.  There are also two unique geological features identified as paddling destinations.  One of these is the Fossil Ledges located on the north shore of Drummond Island.  The other is called Marble Head, located on the eastern end of Drummond Island.  Check out the map and read the DITA website reference to get the best detailed information for your paddling options, and your paddling adventure.


Drummond Island offers outstanding opportunity for long distance kayak touring.  The allure of risk, challenge and adventure is powerful, and to respond requires good equipment, practice, confidence and partners.  For safety reasons, solo touring is not recommended.


Lodging can be found at resorts and campgrounds along north coast and Fort Drummond Marine and Resort offer cottages and camping on Whitney Bay.  Remote tent camping is allowed, with a permit, on state land.  Permits are available from DNR or the Drummond Island Tourism Association Office located 8.1 miles east of the ferry dock, on the left hand side of the road at the blinking light.


Before You Go Paddling


Long distance, open water touring can be risky.  Paddlers need to be honest with themselves about his or her skills.  Can I do a ‘wet exit’ and /or roll my kayak; do I know ‘re-entry maneuvers’ that allow me to right my kayak in a variety of weather and water conditions; do my paddling partners know basic rescue techniques and do I/we have the right gear for the trip ahead?  Once the answers to this question start to trend toward ‘yes’ responses, the ‘absolute joy of paddling’ is within your grasp! As a paddler’s skills increase, one skill at a time, the range of trip opportunities expands exponentially.


Drummond Island’s outfitters can take care of your needs and here is a ‘Before You Go’ check list of gear in case you forget something: maps and charts; compass, binoculars, first aid kit; paddle float and sponge; PFD w/ flares, whistle, knife and strobe;  spray skirt; hatch covers; tow line; helmet and hat; sun glasses; cooking stove/fuel; food and water jug and filter; tarp and cord; headlamp and batteries; 2-way radio;  dry bags for storage and waste disposal;  spare camp clothes and quick dry Capilene.


For touring, kayaks with more narrow and long hulls are more suitable for long distance paddling.  Short, wide kayaks are slow but stable and easy to turn, while longer and narrower boats are faster and follow more of a straight line. When paddling ten to twenty miles a day, fast and straight is the way to travel.

Circumnavigating Drummond Island can easily take a days for the average touring paddler. However, should your paddling preference be to hug the shoreline rather than cutting across bays you could dramatically extend the travel time to complete a circumnavigation of the Island.
Photo By D. Sandell
Navigating the Island

Circumnavigating Drummond Island can easily take a days for the average touring paddler. However, should your paddling preference be to hug the shoreline rather than cutting across bays you could dramatically extend the travel time to complete a circumnavigation of the Island.
Paddling in a fog is something to be prepared for, as well. In a fog, a paddlers need to have a good idea where you are, where you are going, know what distance a normal paddling cadence will cover over a period of time. Truly, there is no greater wilderness experience than being fog bound and have places to go and schedules to meet. Fog can be humbling. Generally it is safest to hug the shoreline. If you feel confident in the surroundings, it might be possible to paddle between reference points. Keep out of and away from boat traffic. By all means, learn to trust your compass more than your ‘gut feeling’ to get your destination safely.
Moonlight and night time paddling requires thoughtful consideration, as well. After dark, familiar place are transformed into places of mystery. Know how to find the North Star as a reference in addition to your compass. During an extended multi-day trip along the Drummond Island coastline, every thing changes. Add fog or moon light or weather related conditions, and the old Boy/Girl Scout admonition to ‘Be Prepared’ is nothing but the absolute truth.
There are over fifty major islands in the Drummond Island Archipelago. There are also shoals that emerge as treeless islands only during low water cycles. Some are vegetated complex ecosystems offering habitat for wildlife, and cottage and home sites for human habitation. For kayakers the bay and islands are nothing less than good medicine for the soul. Slow down, glide to a stop, settle into your kayak and watch the sun come up (or set over) the North Channel. See the shadows the islands create, and note the clouds reflected on a still water. Be startled when a fish jumps or let your eyes follow the wake of a motor boat heading home after a long day on the lake, or an osprey soar on the wind. Look into the crystal waters and see stones or a log laying on the bottom, see how they form a painter’s pallet of color and know in your soul this is a moment that brings depth and quality to your time on earth. 
Geographic Setting
Lake Huron has many islands, most of which are located in Canadian waters. The chain of three large islands, called the Manitoulin Islands, includes Drummond Island (USA), Cockburn Island (Canada) and Manitoulin Island (Canada). The largest among the three is Manitoulin Island.  Lake Huron is the second largest of the five Great Lakes of central North America. The lake receives the waters of Lake Superior, the largest Great Lake, as well as, the largest fresh water lake in the world, by surface area. 
The lake has a significant whitefish, lake trout and salmon populations and continues to support a significant sport fishery. The islands are historically known as a fishing region and popular for their resorts.
Manitoulin means ‘spirit island’ in the Ojibwa language. The islands are sacred places for the native Anishinaabe people, who are Ojibwa, Odawa and Pottawatomie.
The North Channel was a primary route used by the voyageurs to reach Lake Superior. The first known European to settle on the island was Father Joseph Poncet, a French Jesuit, who set up a mission on Manitoulin Island near Wikwemikong in 1648.
The Jesuits called the island "Isle de Ste. Marie". When common diseases were introduced into the native population by the Europeans the diseases devastated the area’s native population which had no historical immunity. Raids from the south by the Five Nations Iroquois drove the remaining people from the islands by 1650. According to oral tradition Manitoulin Island was burned, to purify it, as they left. Reportedly, the island remained largely unsettled for the next 150 years.
Drummond Island is an example of geological history. Early in the Paleozoic Era, the Silurian system of limestone and dolomite was laid down to create the base for what is Drummond Island archipelago. The fossils found in the Potagannissing Bay area are salt water plants and creatures from the Paleozoic Era seas that entered the Great Lakes Basin dating back several million years ago. Over time the earth surface would rebound and lift the fossil rich limestone to the surface and shores of today’s islands. For this reason, this area is an outstanding location to see and photograph Paleozoic fossils.
The characteristics of the limestone on Lime Island are unique enough to be named Lime Island Limestone. In the late 1980’s, a Michigan State University archeological research team lead by Dr. Charles Cleland, determined that Potagannissing Bay, and Lime Island in particular, was the northern extent of the Laurel Civilization of native people centered in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. Thousands of years ago Native American travelers journeyed to this region for the limestone chert located in the limestone deposits exposed here. The high quality chert was excellent for knapping stone tools and weapons, such as spear points and arrowheads
The shallowness of the Potagannissing Bay allows waves to build very quickly adding to the sense of awe and adventure that abounds the Drummond Island Archipelago, while scouring the edges of islands and bays for evidence of shipwrecks.
Marble Head on the far eastern end of Drummond Island is an example of the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment is a prominent ridge erosion resistant dolomite rock extending in a semi-continuous broad arc across North America from New York to Wisconsin through Canada across (more than 900 mi.) the Great Lakes region.
Geologically, the Niagara Escarpment forms the steep outer rim of the Michigan Basin, a saucer-shaped geologic structure underlying the Great Lakes. One of the most famous Niagara Escarpment features is Niagara Falls. Drummond Island, Cockburn Island and Manitoulin Island are dolomite islands that bisect Lake Huron to split Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron. On Drummond Island, the Niagara Escarpment is exposed as Cliffs (Marble Head) and limestone pavement or alvar (Maxton Plains).
Globally, the Maxton Plains are some of the best, remaining alvar in the world. Follow Maxton Road to the intersection of Colton Bay Road and Hay Point Road to view the alvar formation and an explanation at an interpretive pullout.
In the future there is great potential to link the Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail easterly to Tobermory in the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, creating a water based counter point to the Niagara Escarpment (land based) Trail. Tobermory is another fine paddling and diving destination. Links to the west include water trail links to Mackinaw Island and Lake Michigan, as well as, north, up the St. Marys River to Lake Superior, making Drummond Island the center of a potential world class paddling venue.
Getting back to the geology of Drummond Island, among the more interesting rocks found on Drummond Island is the Puddingstone. This colorful type of sedimentary rock was formed a billion years ago in the river channels of northeast Canada. During the Ice Age, they were pushed down through Eastern Michigan from Ontario Canada by the glaciers. The white is quartz sand, which is combined with jasper and other pebbles and stones of various sizes, shapes and colors. Some puddingstones may even contain fossils.
Another name for puddingstone is quartz conglomerate, meaning sedimentary rock composed of quartz and jasper and a variety of other minerals. Some puddingstones contain minerals such as chromites, corundum, platinum, diamond, gold, sapphire, and zircon. The non-quartz components range in color form red to brown and pink to purple. Puddingstones are considered metamorphic and sedimentary.
Hunt for Puddingstones along the Drummond Island shoreline, or anywhere earth has been turned over. Please be aware that in the state of Michigan it is unlawful to remove plant material or minerals (Puddingstones) from State land without a permit.
Paddling out to Poe Point is great for viewing fossils and seeing the giant ‘natural steps’ that descend from the shore into Lake Huron. Landing on the rock ledges is tricky, however, look for areas that hold collections of pebbles that form small pebble beaches along the ledges. The pebble beaches make better landing sites. The ledges are also a great place to swim. The water is so clear, that it is hard to judge the depth of the water as you follow the steps into the lake.
Fossil Ledges are areas where fossilized stones have piled in rocky waves along the shore and between rock ledges. Thousands of fossils, it is quite a sight. In July and August the water is so inviting for swimming or simply lounging on the rim of Michigan’s geological bowl to deepen one’s tan. Lingering here is truly a fine oportunity for a picnic and a chance to skip some stones.
Depending on the time of the year, paddlers will find an amazing array and variety of beautiful wild flowers with gray stone for a background, and great photography opportunities all a long the shore to Marble Head. Just be certain to pay close attention to the clouds, wind and the horizon to keep your self safe.
Marble Head, an exposed segment of the Niagara Escarpment, rises conspicuously along the shoe at the east end of Drummond Island, opposite a narrow channel to Cockburn Island. The escarpment is about 2 miles long with Pilot Cove north of Marble Head and Shale Beach to the south. Both interesting sites to visit in there own right.
There are two extremely rare plants on Drummond Island near the Marble Head Cliffs. One plant is rare and the other is rarer still and only found on Drummond Island. In 1839, Douglas Houghton, State Geologist of Michigan visited Marble Head and collected fern specimen, of Asplenium ruta-muraria, Wall Rue, from Marble Head. Another rare species, Arabis drummondi, Drummond Rock Cress, is reportedly located in the area along with other rock ferns, Cystopiers fragilis, Asplenium trichomanes, Asplenium viride and Polypodium virginianum. At the time Houghton visited Marble Head, Wall Rue was found in abundance at the south end of Marble Head and again in 1961 by Jarl K. Hiltunen.     
The Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail
When on the trail, fog can shroud the waterscape with a sense of isolation. The familiar can become a wilderness. Sunrises can bring the light of new day of adventure, while sunsets close the day with incredible color. Here is an abridged list of the features on the Drummond Island Water Trail: opportunities for nature photography, aurora borealis, milky way, unique geology, wildlife, ghost towns, abandoned forts, island history with Native American, French, British, Irish, Scots, Finn, Swede, Mormon history and culture, hunting, fishing, restaurants, resorts, B&Bs, marinas, cottages to rent, risk, challenge, adventure, golf, relaxation, family fun and hospitality, making Drummond Island (Gem of the Huron), Michigan’s Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail the ‘Crown Jewel’.
Drummond Island Tourism Association
P.O.Box 200 Drummond Island, MI 49726
906-493-5245 or 800-737-8666
Email: drummondislandtourism@alphacomm.net

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