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Rudyard Clay Plain

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About the Rudyard Clay Plain

The Rudyard Clay Plain is a small region towards the eastern end of Michigan's upper peninsula extending south and east from Sault Ste. Marie, and is the most important agricultural region in the upper peninsula. This region includes Sugar Island and Neebish Island.

This region is nearly completely flat; there are a few low beach ridges and sandy ground moraines. The bedrock of limestone and dolomite is overlain with limestone-based clay deposits originating from the glacial lake that once covererd this region. Except for the few sandy features, soils are homogeneous throughout the region. Soils here tend to be poorly-drained but relatively well-suited to agriculture. The shoreline consists of a low, wide poorly-drained ground margin, with coastal marshes a mile wide in places, and another 1/4 to 1/2 mile of wet meadow inland from the marsh. The poor drainage and waterlogged soils in this area leads trees to be more susceptible to windthrow here; windthrow sometimes happens on a large scale and is probably the most important natural disturbance in this region.

Originally, much of this region was covered with hardwood-conifer forest including balsam fir (Abies balsamea), balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis), tamarack (Larix laricina), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), white spruce (Picea glauca), and black spruce (Picea mariana). Better-drained sites, mostly on ground moraine and beach ridges, also supported some northern hardwood forest, with sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American basswood (Tilia americana), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). A few local poorly-drained sites within the ground moraine supported swamps of gray alder (Alnus incana) and willow. There were also some shallow peatlands, mostly located along the St. Marys river, near Munuscong Bay and Izaak Walton Bay, dominated by northern white-cedar, black spruce, and tamarack.

The forests here were cleared for agriculture, and siginficant areas of wetland were also drained. Some hay was also harvested from the marshlands. Owing to the relatively fertile soils, this area is the most heavily agricultural area in Michigan's upper peninsula. It is used mostly for the production of feed grains and dairy cattle. There is some urbanization, with the largest city being Sault Ste. Marie, and there being several small towns throughout the region. There is little remaining forest on dry ground, but extensive areas of marsh, swamps, and other poorly-drained sites remain. Many of the ditches used to drain marshland along the river have been abandoned and these areas have reverted to a more natural state.

This region is bordered to the south by the Menominee-Drummond Lakeshore, an area with a more diverse range of soil types, and generally more sand as well as more exposed limestone bedrock. To the west, along the lake, lies the Grand Marais Lakeshore, which has sandier soils, and inland of that, the Seney-Tahquamenon Sand Plain.

References

1. Omernik, J.M., Bryce, S.A. "Michigan: Level III and IV Ecoregion Descriptions / Mapping Issues", US EPA (2007) Web.

2. Albert, Dennis A. "Regional landscape ecosystems of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin: a working map and classification.", General Technical Report NC-178, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station, St. Paul, MN (1995) Web.