Mysterious Lines - Drummond Island

Drummond Island is known as a wilderness paradise to outdoor sportsmen. There are trails, scenic views, inland lakes, and nature preserves. This rugged island has several distinctive features. Marblehead is a well-known scenic overlook and the Maxton Plains are the only alvar in the region. Then there are the mysterious lines in a marsh near Bass Lake.

At ground level, you probably wouldn’t notice them, but they are clearly shown in an aerial photograph taken in the 1930’s. Two sets of straight lines appear in the photograph. There are several short lines in one group and three long lines in a separate group. The long lines are approximately 1,000 feet in length. The lines are at opposite ends of the lake and run in different directions. The long lines are north to south and the short lines, roughly east to west. These structures are quite uniform except the long line in the center does have a curve in one end. They don’t appear to be natural formations. The photograph doesn’t show any other structures or ruins in the immediate area, just long straight lines in the middle of nowhere. Oddly, there seems to be no information on the island explaining these lines.


drummond lines

What appear to be lines in the aerial photograph and google earth, turn out to be trenches in a marsh. We inspected the long lines carefully. The trenches are about 6 feet wide, 15 - 20 feet apart, and run perfectly straight. They do curve toward the lake at one end. When standing in one of the long trenches your feet are only about a foot below the ground level. You are actually standing on roots and vegetation that have grown across the trench. Below the vegetation, the trench is several feet deep and was full of water the day we were there.

We explored the forest near the long lines but found no clues. We didn’t inspect the short lines up close. Garrett Cole of Beaver Island was on the trip. He had scrutinized the site on Google Earth and thought there might be traces of something in the forest at the end of the long lines without the curve. Nothing shows up in the original photograph which is in poor condition. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could hike down there and check it out.

long lines


There were several of us in the party. Everyone was baffled. These trenches were clearly man-made and must have required an enormous amount of work to create, but why were they dug in the first place? Why so amazingly straight? We considered irrigation canals and fish traps among other ideas, but nothing seemed to fit. The mystery was finally solved when I showed the pictures to Gary Olson. He was with the Forest Service for 30 years and stated that he had seen a similar construction years ago in the upper peninsula. He explained that the trenches are the remains of a giant sluice used in a logging operation. It worked as follows. The trees were being harvested at the upper end of the short trenches. The logs were floated down those to the lake where they were guided down to the curve in the long trenches and guided in. The long trenches were dug so that they sloped a tiny bit toward the far end. A slope of only an inch or so would create enough current to take the logs from one end to the other. At the terminus there should have been either a sawmill or a storage area where the logs could be kept until they were moved to a barge on Lake Huron. What Garrett thinks he saw on Google Earth is probably the foundation of an old forgotten sawmill.

drummond line trench

Image #1 is a copy of the original photograph and depicts the lake and the lines. The short lines are in the left and the long on the right. Both sets of lines are on the same side of the lake, but at opposite ends.

Image #2 shows the curve at the end of the center long line.

Image #3 shows what one of the long lines looks like at ground level.