The Chain of Lakes

Torch River

Torch River by southarmstudio

Wikipedia relates that the Elk River Chain of Lakes is a seventy-five mile-long series of fourteen lakes and interconnecting rivers in Antrim, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse and Kalkaska Counties forming a single waterway.

The chain of lakes system begins with the upper stage of the Intermediate River, which rises in hill country at 45°00′20″N 85°04′45″W in the northwest corner of Chestonia Township in central Antrim County. From here, the waterway traverses a number of small lakes flowing north, then making a sharp turn near the village of Ellsworth, flows south through a narrow valley, paralleling the tracks of the Pere Marquette Railroad, until emptying into Intermediate Lake. The outlet of Intermediate Lake converges with the Cedar River in the village of Bellaire, gaining considerable volume. Now a river of substantial flow, it continues south into 1,700-acre (6.9 km2) Lake Bellaire. Leaving the lake, the stream becomes the Grass River, winding for some two miles (3 km) through the scenic Grass River Natural Area before emptying into Clam Lake. Clam Lake in turn empties directly into Torch Lake. At over 18,000 acres (73 km2) in size, Torch Lake is the largest body of water in the system.

The waterway, now clarified after traversing the immense depths of the lake, continues south through the Torch River, joins with the Rapid River, a major tributary, and empties into Lake Skegemog, a 2,500-acre (10 km2) lake that is studded with large stump fields, the result of the flooding of timberlands when the lake level was raised several feet by the construction of the dam at the terminus of the system. Lake Skegemog, which is the meeting point of Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Antrim counties, is conjoined at its western end to 7,700-acre (31 km2) Elk Lake, the second-largest and final lake in the system. The outflow of Elk Lake, the Elk River, flows a short distance to a power dam in the town of Elk Rapids, then out into the east arm of the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan at 44°54′06″N 85°24′49″WCoordinates: 44°54′06″N 85°24′49″W. For most of its length, “The Chain” is navigable by small boat, broken up only by a dam in Bellaire. Larger boats are able to navigate between Elk Rapids and Torch Lake.

Click here to follow the Chain of Lakes on Google Earth. I was only able to get from Grand Traverse Bay up to Intermediate Lake – if anyone knows of a better map, let me know. Here is (roughly) where Ron took the photo above Torch Lake looking up the Torch River to Lake Bellaire and here is where Google Maps says the Chain starts. Don from Up North Memories has an old postcard with some of the lakes labeled.

Ron took these in late April of 2010 – it’s a must see slideshow with some great early moring views of  mist on the lakes and even some cherry blossoms.

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