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Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi freezes over at Palms Book State Park in Schoolcraft County

March 19, 2021

Park raft closed temporarily until ice melts

Ice locks in the raft and coats the surface of The Big Spring at Palms Book State Park in Schoolcraft County.Visitors to Palms Book State Park, located north of Manistique in Schoolcraft County, have been treated this week to an unfamiliar sight, that of seeing the park's famous natural spring topped with a cover of ice.

Kitch-iti-kipi, the Big Spring, is Michigan's largest natural spring. A description of the site was published in newspapers across the state in April 1929, during the week Palms Book became a state park.

"The 'Big Spring,' which received its name from an old legend, is 45 feet in depth and about 200 feet across. Strange incrustations festoon its crystal depths. The overflow from its seething bottom find outlet in a rushing stream that winds through the adjacent forest to empty in Indian Lake," according to the Bessemer Herald.

The spring maintains a constant water temperature year-round, with more than 10,000 gallons of water per minute gushing from cracks in the underlying limestone.

Another description of the location, from an article published in 1955 in the Escanaba Daily Press, offered a tip of the hat to John I. Bellaire, a local merchant who became entranced by the emerald waters of the spring.

Bellaire, who initially found the spring being used as a logging dump, visited the site almost daily to sit and gaze at waters.

"Today the thousands who board the raft to travel over the spring marvel as they toss coins and watch them descend, among clearly visible trout and limestone-encrusted timbers; to the depth of the 40-foot pool," the newspaper said. "Without John Bellaire's aid, it is felt the Big Spring would have been commercialized and that the park area there would not have developed."

Bellaire persuaded Frank Book of the Palms Book Land Co. in Detroit to sell 90 acres around the spring to the state for $10 to preserve the area as part of a state park. Later land acquisitions and exchanges brought the park's acreage to a total of 308 acres.

Bellaire and an American Indian friend created Indian legends about the spring to attract more visitors to the site.

During summer 1933, James W. Boynton, a nephew of Bellaire and chemistry instructor at Western State Teachers' college, made a qualitative analysis of the spring's waters, finding them to contain iron carbonate, calcium chloride, magnesium sulfate and sodium.

The following April, a county engineer reported the spring was topped with a thin sheet of ice. Newspapers reported the occurrence as the first time the spring had ever been known to freeze over.

"Kitch-iti-kipi has been free from ice throughout the past winter during which upon one occasion the mercury dropped to 40 degrees below zero, the coldest weather experienced here in 31 years," the Escanaba Daily Press reported. "Heretofore, tests of the water have shown the temperature to be fairly constant, hovering within a degree of the 40 mark both winter and summer."

The newspaper article included an explanation for the frozen spring in the context of Boynton's research.

"It is believed that the mineral laden water, being heavier, sank to the bottom, thus causing the stagnant surface water, which was relatively free from minerals, to freeze," the article stated. "As Indian Lake is still ice-bound, there is no outlet for the surface water which is draining into the spring from the surrounding landscape."

Dennis Green, current Michigan Department of Natural Resources supervisor at Indian Lake and Palms Book state parks, confirmed that ice does occasionally cover the spring.

"Generally, this occurs in the spring or during a winter thaw," Green said. "Basically, it happens when snow melts from the surrounding cedar swamp and runs into the Big Spring."

Until the ice thaws, park staffers have closed the raft. Temperatures in the area this weekend are forecasted to climb toward the 50s.

Palms Book State Park is found at the northern terminus of M-149.

/Note to editors: An accompanying photo is available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Ice: Ice locks in the raft and covers the surface of Kitch-iti-kipi at Palms Book State Park in Schoolcraft County./