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The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life.

Soo Locks open earlier than normal as Great Lakes shipping looks to rebound

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
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The 2021 Great Lakes shipping season started Wednesday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Poe Lock in Sault Ste. Marie at Noon. 

That’s 12 hours earlier than normal.

“It was done based on a request from [the] industry trying to make the navigation start up safer so they’re operating in daylight hours,” says Kevin Sprague, an engineer with the Army Corps.

The locks, which connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron, had been closed for seasonal maintenance since mid-January. Last year traffic went way down because demand for commodities like iron ore slumped due to the pandemic. 

Based on what he’s seeing so far, Sprague says early signs point to a possible uptick this year.

“We have 12 ships either onsite or inbound in the St. Mary’s River to lock through today, so that says a lot. Season openers generally have a few ships but not that many.”

About 90% of the iron ore mined in the U.S. comes through the Soo Locks.