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The Glacial Impact Over Time on Our Economy

by Lisa Diggs

It’s hard to believe that something that happened over ten thousand years ago, could have a significant affect on the economy today, but that is absolutely true in the case of the state known as Michigan.

While it is difficult to imagine now (although admittedly easier while experiencing a Polar Vortex), Michigan was once buried beneath ice that was nearly a mile deep. During glacial periods, snow accumulates up to thousands of feet thick. The bottom parts of these snow piles turn to ice, and flow as glaciers. Gravity, along with the pressure from the weight, causes the glacier to creep across the landscape.
Glaciers often erode bedrock as they move, which was a widespread process across much of southern Canada thousands of years ago. This rock and soil was eventually dragged to the southern Great Lakes region and deposited here as glacial sediment. Sediment is deposited when the movement stalls or when the glacier begins to melt.
The glacial events that shaped Michigan left an abundance of natural resources, the most obvious of which, is water. Michigan has more freshwater coastline than any other state, as its bordered by four of the five Great Lakes. Inland, there is also a seemingly endless number of ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes as well. In fact, it is said that you can’t travel more than six miles in any direction within the state of Michigan and not hit a body of water.
Long before any European settlers found their way, the abundant water provided a lifeline for natives.  Archeological evidence suggests that the first inhabitants stayed in small temporary camps as early as 6300 B.C. and that those living here 600 to 900 years ago farmed and had more permanent villages, frequently along riverbanks and lakeshores.
The Great Lakes and the inland rivers and streams made it possible for explorers and missionaries to move around the future state creating settlements, churches, and forts.  Waterways enabled swifter travel between areas than traversing the land, which meant the ability to create viable commerce. Furs and fish figured prominently in the state’s early history as a source of economic wealth.
The intrepid Frenchman Brulé was the first European to discover Lake Superior around 1622. During the 1650s and 1660s, French fur traders, such as Radisson and Groseilliers, and Jesuits, such as Fathers Allouez and Menard, explored this great inland sea. Within 250 years fur-laden canoes had given way to huge boats carrying ore and grain to the world.
By the early 1700s Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac hatched a plan to move the fur trade center south from Michilimackinac on the Straits of Mackinac. Cadillac’s plan was approved by Count Jérôme de Pontchartrain. After departing from Montreal on June 5, 1701, Cadillac and his convoy of twenty-five canoes sailed down what would later become the Detroit River. On the evening of July 23, he and his party camped sixteen miles below the present city of Detroit on what is now Grosse Ile. The next morning they returned upriver and reached a spot on the shore near the present intersection of West Jefferson and Shelby.
Pleased with the strategic features, the bank towering some forty feet above the level of the river, Cadillac landed and planted the flag of France, taking possession of the territory in the name of King Louis XIV. The erection of a fortress was immediately begun. The stockade, formed of fifteen-foot oak pickets set three feet in the ground, occupied an area of about an acre. The fortress was named Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit (the strait) in honor of Count Jerome de Pontchartrain. It is from this fort and settlement that modern day Detroit takes its origin.
By the end of the eighteen century, fishing and fur trading were booming. Farming had become far more prevalent, and the next century would bring new elements to the territory’s evolving economy. That is because the glaciers that paved our future thousands of years ago left behind more than deep gorges filled with fresh water. The sediment they deposited also left our state with rich fertile soil and ample mineral deposits that would shape the state’s economic future for the next few centuries.
Even today, the glacial remants from thousands of years past, have an impact on our modern economy. The waterways around the state make it possible for cars, trucks, food, and an abundance of other products to be shipped around the globe. The sediment in the soil created prime growth opportunities for wide varieties of plants in different areas. As a result, Michigan is now the second most agriculturally diverse state in the nation. Travelers are drawn from around the world to experience the natural resources that comprise "Pure Michigan."  The Great Lakes in particular, formed so long ago, play a monumental role in making tourism an industry so large that it brings billions of dollars into the local economy each year.  

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