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Big Susie of the Lake

By Linda Tancs

Jutting out of Lake Superior (the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area and the third largest by volume) are 13 small, rocky islands known as the Susie Islands. The largest of those islands (at 145 acres) is nicknamed Big Susie, located just off Minnesota’s north shore near Grand Portage. Glaciers of the Great Ice Age scoured the sedimentary rocks of this archipelago many times over the last 2 million years, but the Susie Islands only emerged about 5,000 years ago. The plants that thrive there (many of them Arctic and sub-Arctic species) disappeared from the rest of Minnesota after the glaciers receded. The area’s sheer cliffs and rocks don’t support much other plant life besides a variety of lichens and mosses. Due to the delicacy of the native plant community, public access to Big Susie is rarely granted, but a good view of the island can be found along Highway 61 between Rose Mountain and the U.S./Canadian customs station. Long managed and held by The Nature Conservancy, ownership of Big Susie is reverting to the Grand Portage Band of the Ojibway Tribe, who own the other 12 islands.

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