Salamanders had to cross the road, so U.P. city closed it

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

The Upper Peninsula's largest city will close a portion of a road every night through mid-April at least to allow its salamander population to travel and breed safely. 

The southwest bend of Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park will be closed to traffic with road barricades from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. every night until the migration of Marquette's large population of Blue-spotted Salamanders is complete, the city announced this month. 

Foot traffic is permitted in the area during regular park hours.

A Blue Spotted Salamander

Road closures were initially planned through April 15, but colder temperatures and ice storms have led to delays in the amphibian's migration season, according to Kathleen Henry, special projects coordinator and education specialist for the Superior Watershed Partnership, which has worked with the city to close the road since 2020. 

In 2019, biology students at Northern Michigan University, which also coordinates with the city and the partnership, conducted a mortality study of the salamanders in the park and found that 400 salamanders were killed by vehicle traffic during migration season, Henry said.

That's between 10 % to 20% of the city's entire population, which is estimated to be a few thousand strong. Another study conducted after road closures began in 2020 found that only three salamanders were killed. 

The Superior Watershed Partnership is requesting that residents who trek out to Presque Isle Park to watch the Blue-spotted Salamander migration fill out an observation report to assist with monitoring efforts.

"Salamanders typically migrate in full darkness," said Henry. "They also need a little bit of rain, and the temperature has to be just right, so around the high 30s or lower 40s." 

Every year in the early spring, the salamanders make their way from their grounds on Presque Isle to lay their eggs in temporary bodies of water called vernal ponds, Henry said, and have to cross a portion of the drive in the process. 

Residents can trek to the migration route on foot at night to watch the salamanders' journey. The Superior Watershed Partnership requests that those who do fill out an observation report to help with monitoring efforts.

The amphibian lives in deciduous and coniferous forests, and is most abundant in moist woodlands with sandy soils, according to Herpetological Resource and Management. It can also be found in open fields and backyards in suburban areas.

The city of Marquette holds a series of community events called "Salamander Days" to celebrate the animal and the arrival of spring, Henry said. 

The activities include entertainment and educational programming from March through May. A local brewery, Blackrocks Brewery, even put out a Salamander Session IPA to celebrate the occasion.