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Battle Creek/Elkhart Outwash Plain

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About the Battle Creek/Elkhart Outwash Plain

The Battle Creek/Elkhart Outwash Plain, referred to in some documents as the Elkhart Till Plains, is a fairly broad region extending from southwestern Michigan into northern Indiana. It is flat and characterized by well-drained soils that are prone to fire on drier sites.

This region consists of broad plains punctuated by scattered glacial features including terminal moraines, kames, lake flats, and occasional kettle ponds. This region was formed as a a drainage path for glacial melt, as the glaciers receded. Stable streams and rivers now occupy some of the main outwash channels. The underlying bedrock is shale, limestone, and dolomite, but these are buried underneath till, outwash, and lake deposits. The soils here are mostly formed on well-drained sands and gravels, with some well-drained sandy loams on moraines. The finer soils here are subject to wind erosion.

The climate is towards the milder end of a humid continental climate; it is far enough from the lakes that its climate is not moderated by their presence, but the western portion does receive some lake-effect snow. The frost-free season ranges from 150-170 days. Precipitation ranges from 35-39 inches annually, with more falling in the warmer months.

The permeable soils here, underlain by less permeable substrates, ensure a stable water table that leads to relatively constant flow in the streams and rivers.

Original vegetation cover in this region was diverse. The most common forest cover was oak-hickory forest and beech forest, and there was also oak savannah, wet and dry tallgrass prairies, and tamarack swamps. Dry tallgrass prairies were found on the driest sites, and oak savannah mostly on gently sloping terrain. Frequent fires were essential in maintaining the prairies and savannahs.

This region is heavily utilized for agriculture throughout. Farms primarily produce corn, soybean, and wheat, and there is also some pastureland. Saturated organic soils found on some sites are utilized for mint and vegetable farming. There is also signficant residential development; this region contains the sizeable city of South Bend, IN and the smaller cities of Elkhart, IN, Battle Creek, MI, and Kalamazoo, MI, all of which have their own metro areas with significant suburbanization. Forest cover is significantly higher in the north; in the south forests are mostly limited to small, isolated woodlots. There are few protected lands here; the largest intact tract of forest can be found in and around Fort Custer State Recreation Area west of Battle Creek, MI, a region that was converted from farmland to a U.S. Army training center, and later to state-owned parkland. Remaining forests are mostly second-growth oak forests. Fire suppression has reduced the amount of oak savannah and prairie relative to what would have originally been here.

This region surrounds part of the more rugged, more forested Interlobate Dead Ice Moraines, and also borders the two other parts of this region to the northeast. In two spots in the east and west, it also opens up directly to the north onto the Lansing Loamy Plain. In Michigan, it is bordered to the northwest by the Lake Michigan Moraines, and in Indiana, by the Michigan Lake Plain. There is a small border to the southeast with the poorly-drained Clayey High Lime Till Plains, but over most of its southern portion it is bordered to the southeast by the Northern Indiana Lake Country. At its far southern end it borders the Middle Tippecanoe Plains, and there is also an intrusion into it by two areas, the Sand Area and north of that, the Kankakee Marsh. At its far western end, there is also a small border with the Chicago Lake Plain, and south of that, the Valparaiso-Wheaton Morainal Complex.

References

1. Woods, A.J, Omernik, J.M., Brockman, C.S., Gerber, T.D., Hosteter, W.D., Azevedo, S.H. "Ecoregions of Indiana and Ohio (Poster)", US Geological Survey (1998) Web.

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