Since the first big timber cut over 150 years ago, northern Michigan’s rivers have been constricted and polluted by many human activities. Today, small dams and culverts under roadways continue to disrupt stream flows and damage fish and wildlife habitat. This is a story about efforts to reverse the damage and restore a whole river system – the Maple River Watershed.
As CRA Project Manager, Chris Pierce explains the watershed has some interesting history. A number of returning civil war veterans were given 40 acre parcels to settle. They clear cut a lot of the area and attempted to farm the land, installing low-head dams and other structures. Unfortunately, these and many other land and water use activities that followed degraded water quality, adding sediment and disrupting the natural stream flows.
In an effort to improve habitat and restore the Maple River to free-flowing conditions, CRA joined with the Michigan DNR, Emmet County Road Commission, Little Traverse Conservancy and many others to form the Free-Spanning the Maple Task Force.
Neal Godby is a Michigan DNR Fisheries Biologist working with many partnering organizations to improve and manage the fish and wildlife habitat of northern Michigan. He says that older, poorly designed road-stream crossings can be very disruptive to the fisheries and contribute pollutants to the state’s most productive cold-water streams. Godby says that the CRA and the Emmet County Road Commission are making a very important contribution by replacing undersized culverts with timber bridges – freeing the river from damaging constraints.
As the Manager for the Emmet County Road Commission, Brian Gutowski recognized that many of the road-stream crossings in the Maple River Watershed were undersized a number of years ago. The undersized culverts create barriers to fish and generate substantial erosion problems. Gutowski says that there have been larger storms in recent years causing increased flooding hazards in Emmet County. The new timber bridges are successfully improving river flows, reducing sedimentation and pollution at road-stream crossing, and increasing public safety.
Pierce says that six road-stream crossings have been replaced and a number of projects have improved in-stream habitat for fish and wildlife, but there is more work to do. Additional stream crossings repairs and habitat improvement efforts are scheduled. However, the biggest project remaining is the removal of the Lake Kathleen Dam – a very large project scheduled for completion in 2018. When the dam removal is complete, about 50 miles of stream will be completely connected and flowing freely for the first time in nearly 150 years