Muskegon River Watershed Assembly Envisions Maple River Restoration Project
During the lumbering era in the 1800s, a natural 4.5 mile channel that was part of the Muskegon River was blocked off, to increase water elevation for large log flows. While that may have benefitted industry in the past, it has created a persistent challenge for residents and farmers presently living in two Michigan Townships.
MRWA has a 25-year history of watershed restoration success, and enjoys a unique position to provide the watershed science resources, project and agency coordination and oversight, local engagement, and administrative capacity for complex projects like the Maple River Restoration Project.
CEDAR CREEK AND BRIDGETON TWPs., Michigan — Located in the lower third of the Muskegon River watershed, the Maple River was once a bountiful anabranch of the Muskegon River that completed the water border around what was then a distinct island- Maple Island. Since its closure in the late-1800s, these man-made hydraulic barriers have periodically contributed to increased flooding in the area – particularly in 1986, 2011 and 2014. This included farmland and roads being completely submerged in water. As a result, this delayed the start of the growing season, reduced crops, and damaged and eroded property for those affected by these disasters.
The Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA), partnered with the University of Michigan to research the impacts the Maple River has on the area. The study, which began in 2012, concluded that restoration of Maple River would increase the capacity for mediating high water events and likely reduce the frequency of flooding from the Muskegon River. In addition to greatly benefiting area residents, the study found it will also help build a resilient ecosystem for wildlife and expand outdoor recreation.
“A reborn Maple River would have immediate benefit to people, fish, wildlife and plants. Where there is now stagnant water, a free-flowing river would once again provide flood conveyance, quality brook trout habitat, nursery areas for many other fish species, and conditions where wild rice and other valuable plants could thrive,” explained Dr. Marty Holtgren, MRWA’s principal watershed scientist. “The decrease in high water events would make agricultural conditions much better for the longtime farming families in the area.”
The Muskegon River Watershed Assembly (MRWA) has also been coordinating research with the MSU Center for Economic Analysis, and Maple River residents and farmers to assess their historical losses and present needs. Earlier this year, MRWA distributed a stakeholder questionnaire to gather valuable information from those who had experienced the worst of the flooding. Unsurprisingly, the returned questionnaires greatly supported the need for the restoration of Maple River.
“Meeting face to face with stakeholders, including new landowners and fifth generation farmers, was incredibly valuable in increasing MRWA’s understanding for those living and making their living in the proposed project area.” stated Scott Faulkner, executive director of the MRWA. “Their economic need, and enthusiastic response for a full restoration has helped MRWA attract important strategic partners including the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians (LRBOI), US Army Corps of Engineers, Michigan State University Center for Economic Analysis, and Fremont Area Community Foundation. This project, even in these very early phases, is moving forward quickly because it appeals to the people it affects, creates tangible environmental restoration, has a positive economic impact, and creates a blessing for future generations.”
Funding for the Maple River Restoration Project is through the Ice Mountain Environmental Stewardship Fund and Fremont Area Community Foundation. MRWA is also in discussion with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) about strategic planning support and potential funding.
Maple River Restoration Project Public Meeting
To ensure that property and economic stakeholders in Cedar Creek and Bridgeton Township area are able to voice both their support and concerns, and to be brought up to date about the project, MRWA will be hosting a public meeting on Friday, March 4 at 10 AM – 12 PM at Cedar Creek Township Hall, 6556 Sweeter Rd, Twin Lake, MI 49457.
MRWA’s executive director, Scott Faulkner and principal watershed scientist, Dr. Marty Holtgren will be at the event to discuss more about the Maple River Restoration Project and take part in a Q & A.
“MRWA likes to operate out in the open, and we are actively seeking stakeholders to engage with us, and with one another, publicly,” Faulkner expressed. “Attendees can expect clear updates on multiple aspects of the project, relevant scientific commentary, and lively conversation.”
For more information about MRWA’s Maple River Restoration Project, go to:
About the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly
The Muskegon River Watershed Assembly is dedicated to the preservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Muskegon River, the land it drains, and the life it supports, through educational, scientific and conservation initiatives.