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Maple River Flowing Free Again

January 25, 2019

“The dam is out. Now it’s time to let the river do the work,” Conservation Resource Alliance Biologist, Chris Pierce, advised the Maple River Task Force on a snowy December afternoon. This news is liberating after a long season of dam deconstruction and replacing the Woodland Road crossing over the Maple River’s historic channel. Removing the Lake Kathleen Dam was the largest obstacle in our pursuit to Free Span the Maple River, and with approximately 52 miles of the river now reconnected - we are ready to move on to the next phase.

The Maple carries a distinguished personality. The East Branch flows from Douglas Lake and is home to the endangered Hungerford’s Crawling Water Beetle, while the West Branch drains from Larks Lake and is a destination for angler’s seeking Michigan’s “triple crown” of catching a Brown, Brook and Rainbow trout in the same stream. The two branches previously converged at Lake Kathleen, an artificial impoundment created by the 15 foot dam, from where the Maple River flows in its entirety to Burt Lake.  Yet like many other rivers in northern Michigan, historic logging, agricultural practices and transportation development left the river altered and in need of a new lease on life.

That’s where CRA and our team of partners stepped in. We identified 58 road/stream crossings in the Maple River watershed, many of which were inadequate. Failing culverts were blocking fish passage, changing flow and artificially warming water. Eroding streambanks contributed excessive sand and negatively impacted water quality and fish habitat. The primary culprit, the Lake Kathleen Dam, exacerbated unfavorable conditions for wildlife and was a liability in its dilapidated state. 
Thankfully, the Maple also attracted exceptional partners looking to restore and maintain its ecological integrity. These partnerships paved the way for the CRA-led Free Span the Maple initiative, a rare opportunity to provide 100% connectivity to the entire watershed.  

Removing the dam was the centerpiece of the initiative from the start. The late Paxson (Packy) Offield set the project in motion with his vision of the Maple River in its natural, uninhibited state. Packy was an ardent conservationist and purchased the property where the Lake Kathleen Dam stood with a goal of removing the dam. Fortunately, Packy’s dreams of a free-flowing Maple River were carried on by the Holton Family after his passing in 2015. Rick and Lotsie Holton have been integral partners in the Maple’s revitalization, and their commitment to conservation has allowed the project to flourish. Mr. Holton said of the project, “Very seldom do you get the opportunity to work in concert with so many committed people and organizations to make such a major impact positively on a watershed as large and encompassing than this. The Holton family is proud and honored to be a party to the collaboration.”

Now that the dam is gone, our job is to help the river heal. Post-restoration efforts include reconnecting segmented sections to the floodplain, instream channel and habitat restoration, revegetation, erosion repair, and continued management of the sand trap. Ongoing water quality and biological monitoring will carry on, including tracking of endangered species and sea lamprey. 
Over the last decade, the collective strength of the Free Span the Maple partners helped to upgrade nine road/stream crossings, restore instream aquatic habitat, monitor water quality and invest over $5 million in the regional economy. Looking ahead, our sights are set on continuing to replace failing road/stream crossings that impact water quality and aquatic organism passage in the Maple’s watershed. A few of our upcoming projects include replacing two bike trail crossings over Van Creek, as well as crossings at Van, Douglas Lake and Robinson Roads.

We rely on the support of our partners to restore northern Michigan’s waterways, and we invite you to join us in reviving this coldwater treasure. Contact CRA Biologist, Chris Pierce at (231) 946-6817 or chris@rivercare.org for more information on Free Spanning the Maple, or follow the link to www.rivercare.org/support to make a donation today.
 














The former Lake Kathleen Dam and culverts blocked fish passage and interrupted the Maple River’s natural flow.
 









The Maple River flows freely under the new timber bridge at Woodland Road, improving water quality and coldwater habitat for fish and wildlife.

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