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Dam removal planned on Upper Manistee River

November 24, 2010
By Sheri McWhirter, The Leader & Kalkaskian

KALKASKA – Four small dams will be removed from Kalkaska County streams in an ecological restoration project in the Manistee River watershed.

The work is intended to restore the free flow of the Upper Manistee River in an area that’s packed with dams, impoundments and an old trout farm. The property became state land in 2008 through a conservation effort and now habitat improvement work is set to begin next spring.

“You’ve got a number of dams on the property that diverts, impounds and warms up the water in the North Branch of the Manistee River and the Flowing Well Creek,” said Mark Tonello, fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. “Both of those are trout streams. There’s at least a dozen dams on the property, plus several beaver dams.”

Nonprofit Conservation Resource Alliance in Traverse City will coordinate the work, including four dam removals, a bridge improvement on Mecum Road and habitat restoration for retiles and amphibians. The replacement of undersized culverts at Mecum Road will be paid for with some additional state and federal money.

“We will restore it to its natural conditions and improve riparian habitat for trout and other coldwater species,” said Eric Ellis, agency biologist. “These dams slow down water, sediment builds up and species that like cold water – like trout – don’t do so well.”

The river’s natural path will bypass all the other dams when the work is done, as well as the old Flowing Wells Trout Farm with its aging fish raceways. About 18 miles of Manistee River tributary will be opened for wild brook trout passage in an area that remained segmented for about 40 years.

The project is funded through the Sustain Our Great Lakes program, a partnership among private and federal environmental agencies that this year issued $7.6 million in grants to protect and restore the Great Lakes. The Upper Manistee River project received $625,000.

Ellis said there will be much more to do, even when this project is completed in two years. The fish raceways at the old trout farm may also be dismantled or filled in, he said.

One idea is to crush up the concrete and bury the rubble in mounds below the frost line. That creates ideal winter hibernation spots for snakes, Ellis said.

Native tree and shrub planting is also planned in the area and downstream.

The place served as an example location during a recent dam removal seminar, said Brad Jensen, executive director for Huron Pines, a Grayling-based conservation agency.

CRA will try to fund future phases of habitat restoration work at the site, Ellis said.

Contact Sheri McWhirter at smcwhirter@michigannewspapers.com


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