Not all nature is as natural as it seems
The intersection of human influence with the most natural parts of our planet is a very fascinating place. Is anything purely natural anymore? What did all of this look like before we were here? What will it look like after we’re gone? These are all questions I’ve been contemplating over the past few weeks.
Recently, I led a group of nine Outdoor Club members to Pattison State Park in Northern Wisconsin, near Duluth. The park is best known for having Wisconsin’s highest waterfall. Naturally, this got me excited. Waterfalls are one of my favorite things to photograph. Also, seeing the sheer power of water tumbling over rocks down to great depths is intriguing to watch and listen to.
After less than five minutes of hiking, we arrived at Big Manitou falls, an imposing cascade measuring in at a height of 165 feet according to Wisconsin’s DNR. We stood at the overlook in admiration, staring out of a canyon that opened up to a sea of orange and yellow, with northern green pines sprinkled in. As we continued our hike, we meandered to the other side of the falls. To get there, we had to cross a bridge behind them.
The second I looked to my side, my perception of the cascade changed completely. A small dam channeled water in a creepily ordered fashion from a large lake to the stream that would eventually become Big Manitou Falls. Having now seen this, the waterfall no longer seemed natural to me. It was clearly human influenced, and I began to wonder for one, why this dam was here in the first place; and two, what would it have looked like it without it? If I had never seen the dam, I would have seen the falls as completely natural, but with the dam now unlocked, it redefined the waterfall completely.
I spent the rest of my time in the park confounded by this strange confluence of human tampering in nature, so I did a little research. What I found was that there were originally plans to build a larger dam for a factory that would have destroyed the waterfall completely. A man named Martin Pattison purchased the land in secret and donated it to the state to ensure that the dam was not built. I couldn’t however, find anything about the small dam (pictured below) that exists today. (Wisconsin DNR)
In the end, Pattison State Park was very impressive despite the human influence. There was even another waterfall, and this one appeared to be undisturbed.
I urge you to pay more attention to nature and how it has been influenced by people, because odds are it already has.
Feel free to share your own experiences of finding a situation like this. How do you look at the waterfall now that you literally know the story behind it?