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Clam Lake Canal
Clam Lake Canal in May 2017
Clam Lake Canal from M-115 (May 2017)
Location within the state of Michigan
Location within the state of Michigan
Location in Michigan
Location Mitchell State Park
Cadillac, Michigan
Country  United States
Coordinates 44°14′21.8″N 85°27′12.6″W / 44.239389°N 85.453500°W / 44.239389; -85.453500
Length 0.33 miles (0.53 km)
Maximum height above sea level 1,289 ft (393 m)
Status Open
Maximum width 48 feet (14.6 m)
Former names Black Creek
Modern name Cadillac Canal
Current owner Michigan DNR
Original owner George A. Mitchell
Principal engineer Clam Lake Improvement and Construction Company
Date completed 1873
Connects to Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell
(originally known as Big Clam Lake and Little Clam Lake)
Depth 2.25 feet (0.69 m)
Clam Lake Canal
Clam Lake Canal sign.jpg
Clam Lake Canal historic marker
Designated March 16, 1989

The Clam Lake Canal is a man-made .33 miles (0.53 km) long canal between Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac in Cadillac, Michigan. It was made by George A. Mitchell, the founder of the city of Cadillac (as the Village of Clam Lake), in the 1870s. The main purpose of the man-made canal was to facilitate the movement of logs to sawmills. Mitchell was a businessman, merchant, railwayman, lumber baron, and real estate developer who needed lumber to build the village and saw the potential for further sawmill development.

The canal displayed an unusual mystery soon after it was constructed. It was frozen over in the first part of the winter when the lakes on each side of it were unfrozen. Then when the adjacent lakes froze over with thick ice this canal in-between was unfrozen and flowed freely all winter long.


In 1873, George A. Mitchell paid $2,000 ($48,900 today) to purchase a 40 acres (16 ha) strip of land between Little Clam Lake (since renamed Lake Cadillac when the village of Clam Lake was similarly renamed) and Big Clam Lake (since renamed Lake Mitchell, for George's nephew and partner, William W. Mitchell). The strip already connected these lakes via the small Black Creek, which Mitchell envisioned as an efficient transportation route for logs once the canal was constructed.

Mitchell first persuaded the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad to change their original route layout between the lakes to be redirected to go to the eastern end of the Little Clam Lake in the southeast corner of Wexford County, Michigan. He then formed the Clam Lake Improvement and Construction Company and developed a canal there by widening the stream.

Clam Lake Canal mystery

The Clam Lake Canal displays an unusual event most winters. It is out of the ordinary of what usually happens to canals in the Northern Hemisphere of the world in the winter time where temperatures are consistently well below the freezing point. It is such an unusual event that it has been written up in Ripley's Believe-It-Or-Not books series. The phenomenon is when the canal is frozen over in the first part of the winter, the lakes on each side are unfrozen. The canal freezes over first during the winter months, while the lakes on either end of the canal are unfrozen during a typical winter in Northern Michigan. After the lakes freeze over during the mid-winter months, the canal thaws out and flows with unfrozen water.

According to Department of Natural Resources, the explanation for the canal unfrozen phenomenon concerns the physical properties of water. It starts with the fact that water is heaviest and most dense at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and lighter above and below this temperature because it is less dense. Therefore, in the early winter months, the lighter water molecules float to the top. Then as the weather gets colder the water closest to the top freezes first and turns to ice. In addition, since the canal is shallower and has less volume than the adjoining lakes it freezes quicker, and this is the reason why ice forms on Clam Lake canal before lakes Mitchell and Cadillac. As the winter advances and the temperatures drop more the lakes catch up and start the hard freezing process. The warm water of the lake under the ice is forced to leave as the ice becomes thicker on top.


The Clam Lake Canal, sometimes called the Cadillac Canal, has been widened six times over the years to about 50 ft or 15 m wide and is used in the present time as a recreational passage between the lakes for the local boaters. In 1919, the area was reorganized as Mitchell State Park; the canal itself was dedicated as a Michigan State Historic Site on March 16, 1989.

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