Michigan Roadside Attractions: Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant, Sault Ste. Marie
Michigan Roadside Attractions is a periodic feature on Travel the Mitten that will explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to unusual.
The Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant, also called the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant and the Cloverland Electric Cooperative Hyrdoelectric Plant, is located in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan just east of the Soo Locks. This engineering marvel is more than a century old and it continues to provide power to Upper Peninsula residents to this day. The plant is hard to miss when driving on East Portage Ave., and an up-close view can be found at the small pocket park on Salmon Run Way (see map at bottom of post). This is a popular fishing spot (both from the park and in the St. Mary’s River) and an excellent spot to view Great Lakes freighters as they pass by. The powerhouse is 1,340 feet long and 80 feet wide.
The Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant opened in 1902, and at that time it was the second largest facility in the country behind the one Niagara Falls. It was built with steel and red sandstone, and features detailed masonry work. The canal runs a little more than two miles from near the International Bridge to the plant. Bridges on W. Portage Ave., Ashmun St., Bingham Ave, Johnston St. and E. Spruce St. cross the canal before the bridge on E. Portage Ave. with a full view of the hydro plant. The Soo Locks make up the difference of more than 20 feet between Lake Superior and the river; the canal drops the same distance on its run to the hydro plant. Full views of the plant can be had from the water, from the Tower of History, and from the Canadian side of the river in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.
Some interesting facts about the hydro plant from the Cloverland website include: it produces one-fifth of the power needs of the Eastern Upper Peninsula, the manufacturers that built the plant’s turbines are no longer in existence so replacement parts have to be made in-house, a team of 12 people oversees plant operation, and the canal’s water velocity is five to seven miles per hour. Once each year, the plant is opened for tours in conjunction with the Soo Locks Engineers Day (June 30 this year).
Lake Superior State University operates an Aquatic Research Laboratory on the east end of the plant, where students can gain valuable hands-on experience towards careers in fisheries and wildlife management. The lab performs freshwater research and helps stock salmon into the river.
*Edit 12/31/2017 – photos added from our June 2017 Soo Locks Cruise excursion.
Check out our list of 10 Things to See and Do in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan!!