Huron River Restoration

Project Summary: Restoring habitat and removing dams along the Huron River has restored its ecological health, expanded recreational opportunities, and re-oriented riverfront communities towards fully utilizing the river.

RiverUp! designed a flipbook of waterproof maps showing the 104 miles of the Huron River Water Trail. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Riggs.

Southeast Michigan

Description: The Huron River provides many services to its surrounding communities in southeast Michigan. Both local residents and visitors to the area swim and fish in the river, and half a million people rely on it for their drinking water. Despite flowing through a heavily residential region of the state, the Huron River is in surprisingly good shape. The river is largely buffered by natural areas, with two-thirds of parks, trails, and recreation lands in southeast Michigan found right on the Huron. Unfortunately, urban development funnels stormwater over impervious surfaces into the river, carrying industrial and residential pollutants along with it. As a result, several sections of the Huron River and its tributaries are impaired by non-point source pollutants, dissolved oxygen depletion, and sedimentation. The erratic flow of stormwater also alters the Huron’s natural hydrology and disrupts habitat features, impacting the river’s biologic communities.

Thanks to $29 million raised by the Ann Arbor, Mich.,-based Huron River Watershed Council and its partner organizations, the Watershed Council has implemented a program called RiverUp! that addresses these threats, celebrates the river’s importance to the region, and works to keep the river relatively healthy. RiverUp! involves three primary components: cleaning up the river and restoring its ecological health; enhancing and expanding recreational uses of the river; and re-orienting river-front communities towards fully utilizing the river. To enhance riverine ecology, the program installed woody debris

Floating docks were constructed along the Huron River for paddlers and anglers to use. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Riggs.

and boulders to diversify aquatic habitats, removed or adjusted dams to naturalize stream flow, and shored up stream banks to prevent erosion. The program also assisted in the cleanup of contaminated properties within the watershed. For the recreational component, RiverUp! has been developing the Huron River Water Trail, providing resources for canoers, kayakers, rafters, and other recreationalists to enjoy the Huron River. Online materials and signage along the river provide information such as the distance to Lake Erie, the location of rapids, and information about outfitters, guides, and other local businesses that cater to recreation. RiverUp! is also repairing portages and launches to increase safety, and developing the extensive park and trail system along the river to provide space for biking, walking, bird watching, and fishing. RiverUp! is working with the five largest riverfront communities in the area (Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Flat Rock) to turn the Huron River into a “new main street” for the community, with signage welcoming trail users and providing information on bars, restaurants, overnight lodging, and other community attractions. Communities are also developing other amenities along the river, such as bathrooms, potable water, and other supplies. The goal is for these riverfront communities to make the Huron River a destination for the outdoor recreationalists of southeast Michigan and beyond.

Approximate cost of project: $29 million, including $1 million raised by the Huron River Watershed Council and $28 million invested by partner organizations.

Resource challenges addressed: Non-point source pollutants, dissolved oxygen depletion, sedimentation, stormwater, and outdoor recreation.

The portage of the Superior Dam by St. Joseph Mercy is one of the Water Trail spots improved through RiverUp! Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Riggs.

Key partners (public and private): The Erb Family Foundation, Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Department, Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Metroparks, Huron River Water Trail, Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Wolfpack, City of Ann Arbor, City of Ypsilanti, MotorCities, Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission, SmithGroupJJR, Pure Michigan, Bivouac, Greenway Collaborative, Inc., Ypsilanti Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Schultz Outfitters, UAW 1976, City of Belleville, City of Flat Rock, Village of Milford, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, National Wildlife Federation, Riverside Kayak Connections, and Charter Township of Ypsilanti.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, hydrologists, civil engineers, outfitters, bait shops, consultants, land acquisition specialists, guide shops, livery operators, landscape architects, equipment operators, and general labor.

Results and accomplishments: Installing woody debris and boulders enhanced aquatic habitats, while removing dams naturalized stream flow. Stabilizing stream banks and cleaning contaminated sites reduced the flow of pollutants and sediment into the river. Repairing portages and launches increased safety for boaters travelling down the Huron River Water Trail. Trails, parks, and fishing spots along the river are also being developed. Integration with the Huron River Water Trail will spur economic development for riverfront communities.


Originally published April 26, 2017