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Meltdown at Pier Cove Beach: A Photo Essay History

Kathi writes about fossils and other earthly subjects, plus the natural fauna of Michigan, features in her community, poetry, and more.

March Meltdown at Pier Cove Beach Southwest Michigan

March Meltdown at Pier Cove Beach Southwest Michigan

Lately, I've been torn between two passions; writing and photography! But I have resolved my dilemma by combining the two. The web community "" offers the perfect format in order for me to fulfill that vision. So after snapping quite a few photos of a quaint Lake Michigan beach only five minutes from my Southwestern Michigan home, I present to you this photo essay. It includes a brief history of the area as well as a recent development caused by an unusual March snow melt featuring Lake Michigan.

1896 A long forgotten pier in Southwestern Michigan at Pier Cove

1896 A long forgotten pier in Southwestern Michigan at Pier Cove

History of a Quaint Michigan Beach Community called Pier Cove

The Southwestern Lake Michigan shoreline forms a long steep curve inland at the point of Pier Cove where a small creek empties into the big lake. In the early 1800’s, Pier Cove's ravines and plateaus bordering the creek flourished with white pine, beech, hemlock and maple trees. By the 1840’s, lumber was in great demand prompting the construction of a steam sawmill and wood shop down stream. The timber there helped support the build-up of Chicago and Milwaukee. Adding to the lumber demands before the advent of big coal markets, the hardwoods were also used to provide cord woods as the major power source in steam driven vessels navigating on Lake Michigan. The wood shop was later made into a grist mill for grinding both flour and feed which was powered by the small creek. A secondary product in demand was tanbark derived from the area's hemlock trees used to yield leather. Accordingly, in the 1850’s a tanning mill was also built along the creek turning out fancy leather works.

Two piers were constructed at opposite sides of the creek and the bustling small community hosted a major distribution point! Ships departed daily until the the late 1860’s when the lumber supply began to dwindle from heavy harvesting, including from the demands to rebuild Chicago after the devastating fire of 1871. Soon, competition from a new railroad line through the nearby village of Fennville surpassed the need for the waterway port. Pier Cove’s prosperity phased out; however, in the 1880's, peaches and other fruit became a major shipping commodity and the site revived the village’s economy! In 1892, 8000 baskets of peaches were shipped in one day. Tragically, in 1899 a freeze killed much of the local harvest and shipping was reduced to passenger traffic. By 1919, both piers were destroyed from ice and storms, never to be restored again.

O.C. Simonds, the last owner of the mill and large plot of the creek valley, planted many unusual plants and the area became quite well known by naturalists for its many varieties of trillium. The land currently has been declared a nature and wildlife sanctuary!

Pier Cove Forest Sanctuary Today With Fog Rolling In Off Lake Michigan

Pier Cove Forest Sanctuary Today With Fog Rolling In Off Lake Michigan

A Tale of the First Settler

In the early 1800’s, before the area was settled by European Americans, Pottawatomie Native Americans were the main people living off the land. At that point in time, fur trading practices had long been established as the local Pottawatomie had always been very friendly and accommodating toward the tradesmen. But the very first European's to take root and settle down in the area were the Crawford's who witnessed a terrain thick with white pines as far as the eye could see.

One humorous interesting story documented about the new settlers describes how the family toiled to cut down the trees and grub out the land in order to plant their corn, wheat and vegetables. But sometimes they got lost in the forest; even their cow got lost trying to find its way home when it was time to be milked and fed. One particular occasion, a band of Pottawatomie nearby allowed the Crawford's to camp out in their village while they looked for their lost cow! They were fed by the friendly tribe and a kind native american woman even sewed them each a pair of moccasins.

Lake Michigan Ice Shelf in the beginning stages of a melt down; view from Pier Cove's beach bluff

Lake Michigan Ice Shelf in the beginning stages of a melt down; view from Pier Cove's beach bluff

The Meltdown

Amazingly, the photo above was taken only a few days before the photo below at Lake Michigan's Pier Cove Beach demonstrating the rapid meltdown caused by 60 degree Fahrenheit temps. The last surviving snow mound had once reached over 25 feet high, only it was mostly colored white with a top layer of fresh snow and ice. It was part of the solid ice sheet called the ice shelf which dominates over Lake Michigan's shorelines during winter months. The ice shelf pretty much obliterates any recollection of the fresh blue waters when viewing it from the beach! Obviously, from looking at the photo below, we can see the last surviving snow mound was colored brown due to layers of frozen sand suddenly exposed due to the unusual early March melt down. By the following day, whatever remained of the ice shelf was practically demolished as a result of the continuing warm spell multiplied by strong winds and waves.

What Wonders Lie On The Beach

Photographs of rocks often go unappreciated so I've made sure to include a few in this photo review. For some reason, rocks, shells and fossils are much more accessible for discovery at Pier Cove compared to other beaches in the area, such as the popular tourist site of Oval Beach! It's a phenomenon seen especially in the spring when rivers of melting snow rush by, erasing the sand off the many hidden treasures.

A Closer View Of Pier Cove Creek

The crystal clear rushing water is a result of melting snow off the steep ravines bordering the creek through Pier Cove Forest Sanctuary. The creek, which no longer supports transportation of the former industries, is taken over by the ensuing forest.


The black and white photo below offers an idea of the erosion along the north side of the creek cliff. It's estimated to be about a 25 foot drop. Just below the mangled roots there is a fallen tree trunk that's suspended across to the opposite bank of the creek. The base of the trunk can just barley be seen in the right-hand bottom corner of the photo. The close-up driftwood photos below entitled "Orange Fungus" and "Peek-a-Boo" were captured from that single large piece. Also, a large section of the tree's root system dislodged and drifted to the opposite side of the creek. I've captured a few close-ups from that large chunk titled "Driftwood Maze" and "A Bug's Cave" as well!

All About Michigan Sunsets

I've been lucky with sunsets. One day while I was literally standing in the shallows of the creek admiring smooth dried rocks lying on the wet sand, two deer came strolling by. One stopped for just a second before she saw me and ran off. But her fawn didn't. I had just enough time to adjust my camera and push the shutter button at the last second. I was in such a hurry and didn't know if I held the camera steady enough to get a clear shot. I'm so pleased it turned out to be a perfect silhouette with a backdrop of glimmering water and pink colored sky! I believe it's a sign for good things to come and nature's spirit casting her light on us!

Lucky shot at Pier Cove Beach

Lucky shot at Pier Cove Beach

Pier Cove Beach Sunset on Lake Michigan

Pier Cove Beach Sunset on Lake Michigan

Under the Setting Sun

Sun no longer high in the sky

Past midday on a downward slide

Under the golden radiance

Souls rush to catch a glimpse

And arrest the passing moments

Of the Sun’s intensifying tints

Within body’s yearning to unwind

The splendor inspires soul’s confined

To merge with the miraculous light

Encompassing a love unmatched in this temporary life

Red Cloud Vortex at Pier Cove Beach on Lake Michigan

Red Cloud Vortex at Pier Cove Beach on Lake Michigan

© 2011 Kathi Mirto

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