Groundbreaking Techniques Halt Erosion on Pine River

May 22, 2023

Project Highlights

Project Type

Habitat Restoration and River Bank Protection (Two Sites)

River Miles Restored

1/10 mile

Location of Project

Newkirk Township, Lake County, Michigan

Wildlife Benefited

Brook, Brown, and Rainbow Trout; Sculpin; Passerines (perching birds); Wood Turtle; Muskrat; Mink; Northern Water Snake

A bird’s-eye view shows the dense wilderness around the site.

Project Overview

Over time, logging and other land-clearing activities have left rivers and streams with limited supplies of wood. One such example is along a section of the upper Pine River between the Silver Creek State Forest campground and the Lincoln Bridge off-road vehicle crossing.

This section of the river runs through state-owned lands that include a network of hiking trails lining the crest of the bluffs. At one time, severely eroding streambanks resembled cliff edges of a dune rather than a forested river corridor.

Large, instream wood was scarce, leaving the river vulnerable to excess sedimentation and void of habitat. Without large timber to absorb the water’s force during high flows, the banks were taking the brunt of the impact, resulting in excess sedimentation. Aquatic habitat was also lacking, a severe problem for the many anglers of the Pine River.

In 2017, a team including CRA Biologist Nate Winkler, the Michigan DNR, the Natural Resources Department of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, design, and engineering experts Inter-Fluve, and a collection of avid conservation advocates, was assembled to protect the river.

With steep bluffs and tight, forested riverbanks to contend with, implementing the design was a challenging feat. A landing had to be built adjacent to the project area so that one-ton boulders could be drilled and connected to logs with chains. The log and boulder combo serves the same function as naturally occurring large woody debris but is more durable and will last longer in the river.

The installation process was intense: Under the supervision of the construction engineer, an excavator on top of the bluff would hand the debris down to another excavator near the river. This process was repeated until all the material was installed.

Restoration work was completed in the summer of 2021. Because of the unique construction technique, the project was the first of its kind for a Midwestern River.

This ground-breaking initiative along the Pine River will help rebalance the natural ecology. The Pine River project repaired and stabilized the eroding bluffs and trails at two dramatic sites while providing habitat for fish and other river-associated wildlife. A third site just downstream is being evaluated by partners.

Before: Severe erosion plagued the banks two sites along the Pine River. (Site B)

During Construction (Late Summer 2021): an excavator works to place woody debris at the site. (Site B)

After: An aerial photo provides a close view of the structure in the summer of 2022. (Site B)

Before: Severe erosion plagued the banks of two sites along the Pine River. (Site A)

After: An aerial photo shows large woody debris from above: The work has since stabilized erosion on both sites and provided an abundance of new aquatic habitat. (Site A)

CRA Biologist Nate Winkler talks with Pine River Restoration Committee members at a recent site visit. The committee is now evaluating next-up project sites.

Projects like this are not possible without the help of our funders and partners.

We’d like to send a special thank you to:


MDNR Recreation Improvement Fund – Pine River Area TU – Pine River Watershed Enhancement Fund/Pine River Association/Lake County Community Foundation – Trout and Salmon Foundation – Michigan Fly Fishing Club – Little River Band of Ottawa Indians – Little River Band of Ottawa Indians/Natural Resources Conservation Service – Little River Band of Ottawa Indians/EPA – Challenge Chapter TU – USFWS Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Recovery Act – USFWS Lake Michigan Basin Funding – Scientific Anglers – Fly Fishers International – Kalamazoo Valley TU – DTE Energy Foundation – Walters Family Foundation – Andrew R. and Janet F. Miller Foundation – The George Fund

Partners Involved:

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians – MDNR – Kanouse Outdoor Restoration – InterFluve – Natural Resources Conservation Service – EGLE


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