About the Refuge

Aerial Photo of Lighthouse and Cattle Islands.

Lighthouse and Cattle Islands as viewed from the air.  Cattle Island, the smaller of the two, gets its name from a maritime accident which left a number of livestock marooned there in 1860 when the Arctic, a cargo ship, ran aground.

Eight small islands, totaling 147 acres, make up the Huron National Wildlife Refuge. It is located just three miles off the south shore of Lake Superior in Marquette County, Michigan. Huron National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1905 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife, especially the herring gull, which has large nesting colonies on the islands. These early, bird sanctuaries were vital for a number of species of birds, including the herring gull, whose populations had been drastically reduced by plume hunters and egg collectors in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Lighthouse Island is the second largest island at 40 acres and the only one open to the public. In 1868, a lighthouse was built on the island to aid in navigation and in 1972 the light was automated, eliminating the need for a lighthouse keeper. Today, the lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

McIntyre Island is the largest of the islands at 77 acres and supports the most diverse habitats. Cattle Island (12 acres) and Gull Rock (15 acres) are the sites of large herring gull colonies. The four largest islands all support some boreal forest. In addition, McIntyre Island has a few small patches of sphagnum bog. The remaining four islands make up only three acres and are little more than granite outcroppings. While the nameless bare rock islands are small, rising just 10-50 feet out of the water, Lighthouse and McIntyre Islands rise 160 feet above Lake Superior. There are no permanent streams on any of the islands, but there are a few calderas on the largest islands that collect and hold rainwater.

The granite outcroppings that make up the islands are billions of years old. Covered in glaciers during the last ice age, the islands would have been little more than bare rocks and thin soils when the glaciers retreated. The plants and animals inhabiting the islands have found their way there over the last 8,000 to 15,000 years.

Due to the remote nature and primitive quality of these islands they have been designated a Wilderness Area.