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Think you know about the Great Lakes? New book might prove you wrong

 Cover of "The Great Lakes Fact or Fake" by Dave Dempsey featuring an outline of the Great Lakes in the background, question marks and a whale
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Dave Dempsey

You may not know as much about the Great Lakes as you think you do.

Dave Dempsey has written several books about the bodies of water, and his latest may spark dinner table debate and family fun. It’s called The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake

Dempsey says his earlier books about the Great Lakes have been serious. While they’re highly regarded and have made the Michigan Notable Books lists, they may not have appealed to a general audience.

“I’m very frustrated by that and very concerned because the Great Lakes are our home, and they’re a world-class resource and ecosystem that people should know more about," Dempsey. "Frankly, even people in the Great Lakes region don’t know a lot about them that they should.”

For The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake, he’s taken a different approach. The short chapters attempt to either confirm the truth or debunk inaccurate myths about the lakes.

The introduction reads, in part:

“The Great Lakes are impossible to overlook. Whether you’re an astronaut circling the globe, a student examining a map of North America, or a tourist standing on the shore of one of the five lakes, they dominate our attention. And yet, even most of those living within the roughly 200,000 square mile Great Lakes watershed don’t know many of the most interesting things about them.”

Dempsey explores ideas like a T-shirt slogan saying the Great Lakes are “unsalted and shark-free.” You might be surprised to learn that while there are, indeed, no sharks in the Great Lakes, the slogan is only half right.

"It’s not accurate any longer to say that the Great Lakes are unsalted, primarily, because of the amount of road salt we’re using on our highways in the wintertime and the amount of it that flows into the Great Lakes," he explained.

"We’re seeing a steady upward climb in the concentration of chlorides in the Great Lakes, not to the point of alarm right now, but if the trend continues, it could be a serious one over the next few decades.”

Dempsey says in inland areas, particularly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, road salt has built up to a level of concern in local lakes and ponds.

Here’s one notion about the lakes you might get wrong: there’s enough shoreline in the Great Lakes to equal the distance from Detroit to Mexico City.

It turns out it’s a lot more than that. It actually could reach Australia.

"There's almost 11,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline if you add up the islands and the mainland," he said. "Michigan has the most shoreline of any of the Great Lakes states, about 3,300 miles ... second place to Ontario, which has a lot more."

Here’s another you may not have thought of: there’s a connection between Abraham Lincoln and the threat that the invasive Asian Carp could reach the Great Lakes soon. 

“Abe didn’t personally bring in the Asian Carp, but his support for building canals from one system to the Great Lakes, actually from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes, is one that ultimately allowed the Asian Carp to get this close.”

The Great Lakes: Fact or Fake might be Dave Dempsey’s final book about the lakes he loves, but he continues to collaborate with his brother Jack on a series called Ink Trails tracking Michigan’s famous and forgotten authors. They’re currently working on the third installment in the series.

He’s also contemplating another biography of a notable person in Michigan history. He has written about former Governor William Milliken, and his next subject might be the late state Representative Perry Bullard. He describes Bullard as the sponsor of some major laws while also being “quite a character.”

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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