MARQUETTE, Mich. – (WJMN) – As snow descends on the Upper Peninsula so do the blue-spotted salamanders. These native amphibians to Marquette escape the bitter winter temperatures by hibernating deep underground in Presque Isle Park. Every spring, the salamanders rise from underground and begin their journey across Peter White Drive and into the wetlands.
“It is actually a migration of thousands of individuals,” said Tyler Penrod the Great Lakes Conservation Corps Coordinator. “It is important that over the nights of several migrations it is important that we limit the vehicle traffic going back and forth that way we are not squishing a bunch of salamanders.”
Since the start of the road closure, Penrod says that the salamander death toll has decreased to less than 1% since the implementation of the road closure.
“As recently as 2019, there was a student researcher named Eli Beary who did a study that found that over 400 salamanders were killed by vehicle traffic on this quarter-mile stretch of road and really these are preventable deaths,” said Penrod. “The Superior Watershed Partnership partnered with the city of Marquette to close this stretch of road. In the following year in 2020, there were only three deaths likely caused by someone stepping on them or traffic. Overall it’s very successful.”
The section of Peter White Drive will be closed to traffic between the hours of 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. until April 15. This area, however, is open to foot traffic if you are looking to see the salamanders yourself. The salamanders are most active on warmer nights especially in combination with rainfall. If you are going to search for them, Penrod does recommend you bring some things along with you.
“I just commend people bring a headlamp of course so you don’t step on any of them,” said Penrod. “These guys are black on the pavement so they can be tough to spot without one. The section of road is from right about where Moosewood is on Presque Isle Park until the Superior Watershed Building.”
Local 3’s Haley Schonegart tried her luck at trying to see the salamanders with her own eyes but unfortunately came up short due to the cold weather the Upper Peninsula is experiencing. She did, however, meet Katie Leabch and she was kind to not only share her photos and videos with Local 3, but she also let me in on her secrets that she used to spot the salamanders the week before.
“We looked up and down Presque Isle up until Sunset Point I believe,” said Leabch “We looked in puddles mostly and then alongside some of the roads and I think we saw about ten of them the other night.”
The Superior Watershed Partnership has begun to look at more permanent solutions for the migration for the upcoming years. With such a decrease in deaths, Penrod says he knows that something must be done in order for these salamanders to be able to migrate safely for many years to come.
“It is early in the migration now, but we are already seeing this being a success once again and until we have a permanent solution like an eco pass under the road or something where they can migrate without disrupting vehicle traffic, yeah we see this continuing into the future,” said Penrod.