Free Spanning the Maple

Oct 28, 2021

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Lake Kathleen turned into the majestic Maple River

Tucked away in Emmet County’s Hemingway-country, the Maple River is one of northern Michigan’s lesser-known watersheds. Nevertheless, the river’s clear, cold, tannin-stained waters perfectly contrast the towering pines that shade its corridor, and it is one of the few places where you can catch brook, brown, and rainbow trout all in the same stream. The Maple River is an angler’s haven.

Since its construction in 1884, a dam at the confluence of the river’s East and West Branches has had a profound influence on the Maple River’s habitat. The dam formed an impoundment known as Lake Kathleen, which artificially warmed the stream’s waters and degraded the river’s highquality, coldwater trout habitat. When the original dam failed in 1952, the river suffered from erosion and sedimentation, causing the Maple’s trout population to decline even further. In 1967, the Lake Kathleen Dam was reconstructed – where it sat for more than 50 years. 

Photo: A view of the deteriorating dam during removal and dewatering.

Despite its storied past, there is a silver lining in the Maple River’s story. In 2009, CRA partnered with the Emmet County Road Commission and began our quest to fully restore connectivity to the Maple River. The multi-phase initiative became known as “Free Spanning the Maple,” and promised to restore connectivity to the entirety of Maple River Watershed, transforming the river and its tributaries into healthy, wild, and completely unrestricted waters.

“Free-flowing rivers are the freshwater equivalent of wilderness areas.”

– World Wildlife Fund

This year, we are celebrating the removal of the Lake Kathleen Dam – the pinnacle of the project and the watershed’s most damaging barrier. Looking ahead, another milestone is in sight – we have just four more road/stream crossings to replace before celebrating the completion of the initiative. This concept – reconnecting an entire watershed from stem-to-stern – is the first step to tackling each and every watershed with the same approach. Already, we’ve started work on restoring complete connectivity to the Carp Lake River, just a few miles north of the Maple. Thank you to the community and partners that make this initiative a reality – “Free Spanning the Maple” is just the beginning.

Photo: The Maple River under a fresh blanket of snow


148,000 acres, approximately 231 square miles

River Miles

53 miles


Pellston, MI

Brook Trout
Brown Trout
Rainbow Trout

Eastern Massasauga
Five-lined skink
Nine species of frogs & toads
Seven species of salamanders
Eleven species of snakes
Five species of turtles
American beaver
River Otter
Whitetail deer
Black bear
Blue-winged teal
American black duck
Canada goose
Bald eagle
Hooded merganser
Hugnerford's crawling water beetle
Michigan monkey-flower
Sugar maple
Common milkweed
Paper birch
Star Thistle
Silky dogwood
Eastern White Pine
Northern Red Oak
Northern white cedar
American Elm
Western brackenfern
Sandbar willow
American basswoods

Photo: Historic picture of the Lake Kathleen Dam

Photo: Construction after dam removal 


Projects like this are not possible without the help of our members and partners. We’d like to send a special “thank you” to:

Spicer Group, Elmers Construction, Streamside Ecological Services,