These five beautiful lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario — are celebrated on Great Lakes Awareness Day, which takes place on the Monday in the first full week of May. This year, it takes place on May 2. This event is the United States’ chance to honor this series of large interconnected freshwater lakes that (mostly) border us. Celebrations on this day have also taken on themes like water conservation, lake preservation, and other current issues and have included participation by aquariums, schools, governing bodies, and even museums.
History of Great Lakes Awareness Day
Most people believe that Lake Erie came into its current state of being some 10,000 years ago, while Lake Ontario was around 7,000 years ago, and Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior were formed (at present-day levels) around 3,000 years ago. But, lakes are everywhere, so these five shouldn’t have attracted any special interest. The main reason (at least initially) for the Great Lakes gaining prominence was their ability to provide very easy transportation routes into the heart of the American continent.
Then, people started seeing the forests and fertile lands around these lakes — perfect for agriculture, lumbering, and other activities. The perfect addition to this was the plentiful deposits of natural minerals found on the shorelines of these lakes, including iron, salt, copper, large coal mines, limestone, and more. These resources, plus the abundant water supply, made these lakes very attractive for development, and the shores were soon lined with huge industries and large metropolitan areas.
Of course, the excess human population and activity around the lakes had to have consequences, which were first officially noticed around the 1900s. By 1950, a high number of beaches had to be closed down because of pollution and unsafe conditions. The wildlife from the areas surrounding the lakes began to exhibit signs of toxic substances. These incidents, plus the pollution in the rivers and the extinction of certain water-based animals, gave the authorities a giant wake-up call. By the 1970s, the governments of both America and Canada — these lakes travel through both nations — had begun to collaboratively work on pollution control in these lakes.
These two countries even signed a ‘Great Lakes Water Quality Act’ in 1972 to protect and conserve the Great Lakes. Since that time, the Great Lakes have benefitted from multiple conservation efforts — both governmental and private — and now have an improved water quality. Some fish populations have even begun to repopulate these waters after many years. Held since 2014, the Great Lakes Awareness Day creates exactly what it aims: awareness. Students are encouraged to find solutions to pollution problems, and their projects are highlighted on this day.
Great Lakes Awareness Day timeline
Many explorers record and write about fluctuating water levels, but Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz is the first to conduct a purely scientific expedition on Lake Superior's north shore.
On January 11, the United States and Canada sign a treaty to stave off any existing or potential shared water-related disputes among the two countries.
In June, a fire breaks out on the Cuyahoga River — which feeds Lake Erie — resulting in multiple environmental regulations aimed at cleaning up the Great Lakes.
Hundreds of ships have met an unfortunate demise in a stretch of water on southern Lake Superior between Munising, Michigan, and Whitefish Point, the latest being the 'SS Edmund Fitzgerald'.
Great Lakes Awareness Day FAQs
What is Great Lakes Day?
Ontario, Canada celebrates its own Great Lakes Day on June 7, while the United States has an annual Great Lakes Day Congressional Reception, which is also called Great Lakes Day. Both events prominently feature issues, priorities, and various Great Lakes policies for honoring these amazing water sources.
Why are the five Great Lakes important?
The Great Lakes are rich in natural resources, providing people with food, water, and means of transportation. Plus, they’re a huge tourist attraction — people go there for the water sports, fishing, hunting, e.t.c. — so they’re padding the regional economy too.
What is the saying for the Great Lakes?
An easy way to remember the names of all five Great Lakes is the saying: Super Heroes Must Eat Oats (Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, Ontario). Another cool way is to remember the acronym HOMES.
Great Lakes Awareness Day Activities
Plan a trip to the Great Lakes
Pick one and enjoy a day near the water. Make it a group trip and explore various water-related activities, too.
Check out local events
Search for organizations near you that are holding special activities on this day. If you can, attend these either virtually or physically.
Get involved in conservation efforts
There might be multiple issues the Great Lakes face. Learn about them and check if there is any way you can help.
5 Great Lake Facts To Blow Your Mind
The only one in U.S. territory
At least Lake Michigan is entirely on U.S. soil, as all the other Great Lakes touch Canada.
Lake Superior is very deep
It's so deep that the entire Empire State Building would get submerged, with only the antennae peeking out of the water.
One of them has a sea monster
Allegedly, there's a sea monster-like animal called Bessie in Lake Erie.
The lake names are unique
They're all named after Native American tribes who originally lived on the shores, or have French names — Lake Erie for the Erie Tribe, Huron for the Huron tribe, Michigan for the French version of an Ojibwa word, 'michigami.'
The largest freshwater system in the world
Spanning 94,600 square miles, the five Great Lakes provide more than 20% of the world's fresh water.
Why We Love Great Lakes Awareness Day
The Great Lakes are important
Not only are they a huge source of fresh water, but they also provide water to more than 40 million people. They provide a home to more than 4,000 species of wildlife.
They have faced plenty of issues
Pollution, the introduction of invasive species, and other issues have plagued the Great Lakes for years. This day raises awareness about these issues and hopefully increases efforts to solve them.
Water conservation is more important than ever
In this time of drastic climate change and global warming, every single effort towards conservation and related activities helps us protect our planet a little more. Conserving natural resources such as the Great Lakes is crucial.
Great Lakes Awareness Day dates