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Youth Group Assists in Big Manistee River Stabilization

March 31, 2004

A group of high school students from the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor took to the "slopes" last Fall to help the Conservation Resource Alliance in the effort to heal the Big Manistee River. Student volunteers and CRA staff planted more than 1,000 jack pine seedlings on a nearly vertical 80-foot high eroding bank just downstream from the well-known Baxter Bridge in Wexford County. The student volunteer day was part of a collaborative effort between CRA's River Care Kids program, underwritten by the General Motors Foundation, and the new Water Studies Institute of Northwestern Michigan College.

The students' tree planting will help stabilize the upper slope as trees take root and begin to shade the soil. Prior to the planting day, CRA and contractor Tom Knoop from Reed City placed 90 yards of fieldstone at the base of the slope. Five rows of terraces were constructed to hold back 40 yards of topsoil that were added to accelerate the plant growth.

Although the students were surprised and challenged to be working on the huge vertical sand bank, Mark Johnson, CRA's project manager, says this is a typical bank for the lower Manistee. "It's just a huge watershed," says Johnson, "originating in Antrim County, it flows through 11 counties, and the main stream is 232 miles long." The Manistee is also prized for its biodiversity, with over 80 species of fish, and myriad wildlife species.

Since the late 1980s, CRA and other committed partner organizations have been working to stabilize more than 200 severely eroding stream banks, which smother the river bottom with thousands of tons of sand year after year, harming aquatic insects, fish, and wildlife. The erosion sites are the artifacts of late 1800s era logging. Giant trees, which previously had protected and buffered the river, were stripped from the banks in order to form log "rollaways." The nearly vertical exposed sand banks cannot heal themselves without help.

Help comes in the form of CRA's River Care program, which has raised and spent nearly $2 million on the permanent repair of sites like this one. "But," says Johnson, "we could never hope to win this fight alone." Johnson cites the many partner organizations and public and corporate contributors who have provided resources. "It feels good to realize that everyone from the Huron-Manistee National Forests and Michigan DEQ, to the Oleson Foundation and Trout Unlimited, are all willing to commit resources toward this premier watershed."

For more information on CRA's work on specific northern Michigan rivers, contact CRA at (231) 946-6817 or send an e-mail via CRA's web site.


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