Dam removal brings a trout stream back to life

Project Summary Removing an obsolete dam from Wheeler Creek, a tributary of the Manistee River, restored the natural conditions in several miles of a coldwater trout stream and removed a safety hazard.

Project name: Wheeler Creek Dam Removal.

Location: Near Mesick, Mi.

The Wheeler Creek dam before the restoration project began. (Conservation Resource Alliance photo)

Description: In 1867, a pioneer named John Wheeler built a dam to power a sawmill near the confluence of the Manistee River and the creek that now bears his name. The Wheeler Creek Dam contributed to Michigan’s timber industry but did so at the expense of a coldwater creek that had a self-sustaining population of brook trout.  For nearly 150 years, Wheeler Dam served as an ecological divide between Wheeler Creek and the Manistee River — a major Lake Michigan tributary that is also a state designated Natural River and a federally designated Wild & Scenic River. When the 20-foot-tall dam began to crumble, the Conservation Resource Alliance worked with several partners to remove the dam and restore Wheeler Creek and its natural connection to the Manistee River.

Approximate cost of project: $246,000. The project was funded in part by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Resource challenges addressed: Fish passage, thermal pollution, sedimentation of Wheeler Creek, fragmentation of the creek and the loss of fish and wildlife habitat.

Key partners (public and private): Conservation Resource Alliance, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Wade Trim, Molon Excavating, and Kanouse Outdoor Restoration.

Wheeler Creek after the dam was removed.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, environmental engineers, ecologists, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, landscape architects and landscapers.

Results and accomplishments: The project restored natural conditions in seven miles of Wheeler Creek; reestablished the creek’s natural connection to the Manistee River; removed 1,446 cubic yards of sediment from the creek; restored the natural movement of sediment and nutrients in the creek; and provided miles of new habitat for the native brook trout population.

Web site: www.rivercare.org

Originally Published: February 17, 2012