region K Area 94a larger picture

Northern Michigan and Wisconsin Sandy Drift

Eastern Lake Section of the Central Lowland Province of the Interior Plains.

Total Land Area 9,020 square miles (23,380 square kilometers).

Area entirely in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan

Towns/cities include:
Grayling, Gaylord, Cadillac, Clare, and Tawas City

Parts of the Au Sable, Mackinaw, and Pere Marquette State Forests and the Huron and Manistee National Forests occur in the area.


This area is covered almost entirely by deposits of glacial till, outwash, and lake sediments. Bedrock consisting of Devonian limestone and dolomite with interbedded shale, chert, and anhydrite stringers is at various depths below the surface because of the curvature of the Michigan basin. Bedrock exposures are evident on the eastern and western shores, in areas where the outer edges of the basin rise to the surface.

It is dominated by outwash plains and moraines. Scattered lake plains and till plains are throughout the area. The terrain can be steep on the moraines and flat in the areas of outwash and lake plains.

Topography -

Elevation ranges from 850 to 1,725 feet (260 to 525 meters).


The average annual precipitation is 27 to 30 inches (685 to 760 millimeters) in the eastern two-thirds of this area
30 to 36 inches (760 to 915 millimeters) in the western one-third.
The average annual snowfall is 45 to 150 inches (115 to 380 centimeters).
The average annual temperature is 41 to 47 degrees F (5 to 9 degrees C).
The freeze-free period averages about 145 days and ranges from 105 to 185 days.

The average annual air temperature is lower and the freeze-free period is shorter in most of the western half of this area than in the rest of the area.

Major Hydrologic Unit Areas

Name Code Extent*
Northwestern Lake Huron (0407) 40%
Northeastern Lake Michigan-Lake Michigan (0406) 39%
Southwestern Lake Huron-Lake Huron (0408) 21%

* this is the percent of area drained by each named hydrologic unit

Major rivers crossing area include:
The Au Sable, Manistee, Au Gres, and Pine Rivers are the major streams draining this area.

Reaches of the Pigeon, Boardman, Au Sable, Betsie, Rifle, and Pere Marquette Rivers in this area are National Wild and Scenic Rivers.


Estimated withdrawls in this MLRA:
Public supply surface water 62.7% ground water 14.4%
Livestock surface water 0.7% ground water 1.2%
Irrigation surface water 4.5% ground water 11.7%
Other surface water 3.4% ground water 1.4%

Total daily withdrawls average 145 million gallons per day (550 million liters).
22% Ground water sources
78% Surface water sources

It is bordered on two sides by the Great Lakes. Also, it has many high-quality cold-water streams and lakes, which generally have a calcium bicarbonate type of water but can have high levels of dissolved solids. The surface water is of good quality and is suitable for almost all uses with minimal treatment.

Glacial deposits are the sole sources of ground water in this area. Of the glacial deposits, outwash and lakebed sands are the most productive aquifers. Calcium and bicarbonate are the principal dissolved substances in the ground water. The median level of total dissolved solids is less than 200 parts per million (milligrams per liter). The ground water is hard and can have high levels of iron.

Problems with nitrate contamination are related to land use practices, such as applications of fertilizer, manure management, and septic systems.

The sedimentary rocks that underlie the glacial deposits are mostly shale and are not used as sources of water.


  • Frigid soil temperature regime.
  • Aquic or udic soil moisture regime.
  • mixed mineralogy
  • Dominant Soils:

  • Spodosols
  • Entisols.
  • Alfisols
  • Histosols
  • Soils range from very deep, excessively drained to poorly drained, and sandy

    Great Group Series Location
    Haplorthods Rubicon, Kalkaska, and Blue Lake series formed in sandy glaciofluvial deposits
    Udipsamments Graycalm and Grayling series see above
    Glossudalfs Klacking and Millersburg series formed in sandy and loamy glacial till
    Haplosaprists Tawas and Lupton series formed in thick organic deposits or in organic deposits over sandy glaciofluvial material.

    Fauna and Flora

    Consists mainly of two major forest community types—the Pine Barrens and the Northern Hardwoods. Red pine, jack pine, white pine, white oak, black oak, and red maple formerly were and currently are the dominant species in the Pine Barrens.

    Sugar maple, beech, white pine, and yellow birch formerly were and currently are the dominant native species in the Northern Hardwoods.

    Other important native species include pin cherry, striped maple, and basswood in the uplands and balsam fir, eastern hemlock, speckled alder, and black spruce in the mosaic of wetlands throughout the area.

    Wildlife species include whitetailed deer, elk, black bear, snowshoe hare, coyote, ruffed grouse, woodcock, woodland songbirds, ducks, and geese.

    Land Use

    8% - Cropland - private
    8% - Grassland - private
    1% - - Federal
    59% - Forest - private
    11% - - Federal
    5% - Urban development - private
    2% - Water - private
    1% - - Federal
    5% - Other - private

    70% - Forested
    15% - Cropland/Hayland
    Around 30% of the forested area is National or State Forest. These forests used for timber production and recreation.
    Agriculture includes dairy and beef operations, forage and feed grains, wheat, oats, corn and potatoes are also grown in the area.

    Conservation practices on cropland generally include crop residue management systems (especially no-till and reduced-till systems), cover crops, wind barriers, stripcropping, and nutrient management.

    Return to the Regional Land Use Main Page Here