Trail Creek (Lake Michigan)

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This article is about Trail Creek, a creek flowing into Lake Michigan. For Trail Creek, a town in Indiana, see Trail Creek, Indiana.
Trail Creek (Myewes-zibiwe[1])
La Rivière du Chemin (River of the Trail)[1]
Bird's Eye View of Michigan City, 1869 A. Ruger.jpg
Bird's Eye View of Michigan City, 1869, by A. Ruger (partial sketch).
Country United States
State Indiana
Region LaPorte County
 - left West Fork Trail Creek
 - right East Fork Trail Creek, Otter Creek
City Michigan City, Indiana
Source confluence Confluence of West Branch Trail Creek and East Branch Trail Creek
 - elevation 610 ft (186 m)
 - coordinates 41°41′12″N 086°50′38″W / 41.68667°N 86.84389°W / 41.68667; -86.84389
Mouth Lake Michigan
 - location Michigan City, Indiana
 - elevation 581 ft (177 m) [2]
 - coordinates 41°43′27″N 086°54′32″W / 41.72417°N 86.90889°W / 41.72417; -86.90889Coordinates: 41°43′27″N 086°54′32″W / 41.72417°N 86.90889°W / 41.72417; -86.90889 [2]

Trail Creek is a 7.3-mile-long (11.7 km) north- by northwest-flowing stream whose main stem begins at the confluence of the West Branch Trail Creek and the East Branch Trail Creek in LaPorte County, Indiana, United States. Its mouth is a Lake Michigan harbor and marina adjacent to Michigan City, Indiana's lakefront "Washington Park".


In the 1780 Battle of Trail Creek 16 Americans and Frenchmen led by Capt. Hamelin and Lt. John Brady were badly defeated by the British and their Potawotami allies.

Trail Creek was called Myewes-zibiwe in Potawatomi, meaning "trail-creek", which referred to the "Potawotami Trail" that ran from Chicago along the south shore of Lake Michigan, along Trail Creek, then to Hudson Lake and finally to the French Fort St. Joseph and the nearby Jesuit mission (now Niles, Michigan) on the St. Joseph River. The French named it La Rivière du Chemin (River of the Trail), and in 1815 and 1818 it was referred to as the Road River and Chemin River.[1]

In 1816 a shoreline survey indicated that Trail Creek was 30 feet (9 m) wide. At its mouth and on the harbor's western bank stood "Hoosier Slide", a 200-foot-tall (60 m) sand dune (today's Mount Baldy in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is only 120 feet (37 m) tall). The summit of the majestic dune was mantled with trees, and picnics and weddings were held there where Chicago tourists enjoyed a beautiful view of the lake and the vast lumberyards of Washington Park. Hoosier Slide was removed by sand mining from 1890 to 1920, the sand being used for glassmaking and also for landfill in Chicago's Jackson Park and for the Illinois Central Railroad right-of-way. The former site of Hoosier Slide was acquired by Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) to construct a coal-generating power plant in the late 1920s.

In 1832, Isaac Elston bought 160 acres (65 ha) of land including Trail Creek and the harbor, intending to build a road to homesteaders in central Indiana so that they could export farm crops to Lake Michigan. Michigan City arose from Elston's ambition. Early visitors to the region were captivated by its rugged beauty, its abundance of wildflowers and berries, and especially the majestic Hoosier Slide and other sand dunes. Incorporated in 1836, Michigan City's early prosperity was due to the flowing waters of Trail Creek which afforded good locations for lumber and gristmills. In the 1800s 13 grist mills were located on the banks of Trail Creek.[3]

Watershed and course[edit]

Trail Creek Watershed Map from Department of Natural Resources 2006
Looking upstream at Trail Creek from Winding Creek Cover Bridge, Michigan City.

The Trail Creek Watershed drains 37,800 acres (59.1 sq mi) and lies almost entirely within Michigan, Center, Coolspring, and Springfield townships. The source of the Trail Creek main stem of the creek is the confluence of its two main tributaries – East Branch and West Branch Trail Creek.[4]

Historically and to the present, Trail Creek has acted as a natural firebreak.[5]

Habitat and wildlife[edit]

Pinhook Bog in the Trail Creek Watershed was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and is part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Pinhook Bog is the only true bog in located within Indiana. A bog is a specific type of wetland that accumulates acidic peat from dead plant material. This bog was formed by glacial meltwater on a clay bed. Pinhook Bog consists of about 580 acres (230 ha), of which approximately 145 acres (59 ha) are a floating peat mat, with approximately 45 acres (18 ha) of wetland separating the bog from the adjacent uplands.

Federally threatened, endangered, or candidate species noted in LaPorte County include the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), and Mitchell’s satyr butterfly (Neonympha mitchellii mitchellii).

Trail Creek is one of very few Indiana streams with coldwater habitat capable of supporting salmonid (trout and salmon) spawning.


In 2006, a Watershed Management Plan was produced, updating a 1993 Watershed Management Plan. E. Coli pollution from sewage overflow into storm drains was a key focus, as this bacteria is directly correlated to the quantity of biological waste pollution in a given body of water, and caused 77 beach closings at Washington Park in 2005, up from a range of zero to 28 beach closings in the 1990s. Trail Creek also has significant mercury and Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination.[3] The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) 2010 fish consumption advisory listed brown trout, carp, rock bass, smallmouth bass and walleye as group 3 or 4 (limit consumption to one meal every 1 to 2 months), with all other fish species limited to one meal per week unless a child or pregnant woman.[6]

The Nature Conservancy has protected the "Trail Creek Fen", a 37-acre (15 ha) parcel of raised graminoid fen and the sedge-covered wetland, that is scheduled to be transferred to the Save the Dunes Conservation Fund.[7]


Boating and fishing are the most prominent uses of the Trail Creek harbor and marina. From the outlet at the marina to the E Street Bridge, the entire navigable channel is lined with residential and commercial structures, marinas and docks, and the Blue Chip casino. Creek Ridge Park located five miles east of US 421 on County Road 400 in Michigan City is also a LaPorte County park.

Trail Creek is a designated trout and salmon stream, and supports one of the few remaining cold water fisheries in Indiana. In the early 1970s the Indiana Department of Natural Resources began stocking Trail Creek with Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), Skamania summer-run and winter-run steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). As of the end of 2010 Trail Creek had produced the Indiana state record Chinook salmon (caught by Rich Baker in 1980 and weighed 38 pounds) and the state record Steelhead Trout (caught by Evan Nicholson in 1999 and weighing 26.62 pounds).[8] The creek also had the state record Brown trout (Salmo trutta) (caught in 1999 by Steven Bay and weighing 24.18 pounds) until 2006 when a larger one (26.06 pounds) was caught in Lake Michigan itself. Trail Creek also supports other native game and non-game fish species.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Michael McCafferty. Native American place names of Indiana. p. 12. Retrieved 2011-04-22. 
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Trail Creek
  3. ^ a b American Structurepoint, Inc. (2006). A Tale of Two Creeks: Trail Creek Watershed Management Plan (PDF) (Report). Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  4. ^ Trail Creek Watershed Fact Sheet (PDF) (Report). Indiana Department of Natural Resources. 2011-04-24. 
  5. ^ Joel Greenberg (2004). A Natural History of the Chicago Region. University of Chicago Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-226-30649-0. Retrieved 2011-05-25. 
  6. ^ 2010 Indiana Fish Consumption Advisory (PDF) (Report). Indiana Department of Natural Resources. 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  7. ^ "Trail Creek Fen". Nature Conservancy. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  8. ^ "Indiana's Record Fish". Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 

External links[edit]