MRWA Year in Review

Don Henning
Marty Holtgren
Pat Jarrett

Protecting and restoring the river every day.

There was a lot going on in 2017. The organization was involved in all manner of projects, large and small, in keeping with our promise to look after the watershed. As always, we collaborated with valuable partners of long standing in order to accomplish environmental goals. Once again, federal, state and local agencies provided the necessary funding to do the work.

Reforestation was a dominant theme. The residual effects of unrestricted lumbering will mark the watershed for years to come but we continue to make steady progress in this area, establishing thriving forests in high priority locations throughout the region. Specific locations include Clay Cliffs Nature Park in Big Rapids, Muskegon AOC, the Bridgeton Boat Launch as well as the acreage addressed in the Great Lakes Basin grant detailed below.

Recently we have been able to connect these efforts to tangible results. As measurement tools become more sophisticated and available, it is possible to calculate the impact that each tree in the ground has on water quality in terms of reduced pollutants and sediment in our streams.

However, we did more than plant trees. We also restored natural water flow, improved wild life habitat and stabilized stream banks to prevent erosion.

Additionally with support from volunteer student organizations at Ferris State University and Recycle of Mecosta County, we drove a major recycling effort in the Big Rapids area.

Finally, the MRWA education committee, most notably board members Nancy Burmeister, Jean LaLonde and Cindy Fitzwilliam-Heck reached out to watershed residents through water fairs, natural shoreline workshops and seminars on a range of topics from rain gardens to native plants. The message of sound environmental stewardship is a common thread.

As always, the MRWA staff is the common denominator. Pat Jarrett and Marty Holtgren form a bad ass team and together, keep everything running smoothly. Work is done, reports are written, contractors and vendors are paid.

When you add it all up, they racked up some pretty impressive numbers last year.

  • Total number of trees planted: 50,000
  • Acres reforested: 200
  • Linear footage of streambanks stabilized 6500
  • Used tires and obsolete electronics recycled 5 semi- trailers combined

Specifically we managed four major projects in 2017 along with a number of important but less extensive efforts.

Bigelow Creek

As you are probably aware, Bigelow Creek is an important cold-water tributary of the Muskegon River and a real little gem of a stream. As part of a multi-year restoration project, we made good progress in a number of areas this year. The goals of the project are to improve Aquatic Organism Passage (AOL) restore and maintain aquatic habitat and plant trees to provide shade and ground water filtration. The plantings and the in stream habitat work are done. A few weeks ago, the Newaygo County Road Commission replaced a damaged, obsolete metal culvert with a much wider concrete box culvert. We plan to complete the final road stream crossing in the spring. Thanks to a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation and matching funds from other partners, this is one of the more significant projects we have undertaken in our history. But the results are well worth the effort. The Bigelow will flow cooler and cleaner. Native fish species like Brook Trout will benefit from improved habitat and will move more easily to spawn and feed. All characteristics of a healthy stream. Partners include the, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Newaygo County Road Commission, Huron-Manistee National Forest, Trout Unlimited and the Muskegon Conservation District.

Tamarack Creek

We completed the final phase of this project in the spring of 2017. Previously, farmers in the Tamarack Creek sub basin within Montcalm County planted 1500 acres of cover crops and installed filter strips to prevent phosphorous from entering the creek, which connects to the Muskegon River.

Minnie Farmer Park

Thanks to help from partners including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Montcalm Conservation District, Tamarack Creek flows cleaner with less harmful phosphorous. We also completed projects to restore and stabilize streambanks at Minnie Farmer Park and Artman Park in the Village of Howard City and Montcalm County, respectively and replaced three road stream crossings, which will reduce sediment from entering the creek. This spring, students from Tri-County School planted native species to beautify the parks.

Great Lakes Basin Fish Habitat Partnership

For a thorough description of this project, please visit for the GSBSHP final report authored by Chad Hipshier, executive director, Muskegon Conservation District. With primary funding from the US Fish and Wildlife Service it was the most significant restoration project we completed this year and represents the output of a multi -year research study to identify high priority areas within the watershed.

In summary, according to Chad, “The Muskegon Conservation District (MCD) and Muskegon River Watershed Assembly partnered to implement a riparian reforestation strategy and streambank vegetative stabilization in high priority sub-watersheds and stream corridors of the Muskegon River system to reduce impacts of climate change effect on local hydrology.

During the two-year project, MCD worked with nine (9) landowners to reforest 105-acres and stabilize 6,050-lineal feet of stream bank in high priority riparian areas in the Little Muskegon River Sub-watershed in Newaygo, Mecosta and Montcalm Counties.

We have partnered effectively with the MRWA on several projects in the past and that was definitely the case here. The results speak for themselves and we look forward to working together in the future.”

In total, MCD staff planted 37,100 native tree seedlings including a mixture of 14 species of shrubs, conifers, and hardwoods. Benefits to the watershed are significant. Overall, nutrient load reductions estimated using the Spreadsheet Tool for Estimating Pollutant Loads (STEPL) show that this project will produce the following reductions:

  • 631.8 lb./year Nitrogen,
  • 170.7 lb./year Phosphorus,
  • 124.9 lb./year Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), and
  • 19.5 tons/year Sediment.
  • Thanks again to Chad and his team at Muskegon Conservation District for doing the heavy lifting on this project.

Mecosta County Recycling

With Funding from the DEQ Community Pollution Prevention program, the MRWA managed a highly successful recycling effort that produced significant results:

  • Total volume of recycling increased by 8 tons per month
  • Three semi -trailers filled with discarded tires
  • Four trailers full of broken and obsolete electronic components

Thanks to Recycle of Mecosta County for their partnership in this project and to the Bulldog Sustainability Alliance, a registered student organization (RSO) at Ferris for volunteering their services.

Bear Creek

The Bear Creek Sub basin in Muskegon County has been a known source of excess nutrients flowing into Muskegon Lake through Bear Lake. With EPA funding, MRWA is helping to change that. MRWA Board members have facilitated three Natural Shoreline Workshops to teach waterfront owners how to prevent pollutants from entering their lake, creek or stream. To date we have installed five natural shorelines and have made improvements at Twin Lake County Park. Stop and see the natural shoreline that we recently installed at the Girl Scouts Regional Office on North River Road in Muskegon. Project partners include the Community Foundation of Muskegon County, West Michigan Regional Development Commission, Muskegon Conservation District and others.

Road stream crossing inventory

Aging infrastructure in Michigan is a pervasive issue and we see examples in our watershed MRWA is involved in conducting an inventory of road/stream crossings in Muskegon, Montcalm, Mecosta and Osceola counties. The inventory evaluates the condition of road/stream crossings regarding fish passage, excessive sediment, and the ability to stand up to extreme storm water flows. We use this information to write proposals to restore or replace these. We currently have three grants to do road stream crossing and dam site inventories from the Department of Natural Resources and US Fish and Wildlife.

Trash Cleanup

Clearing trash from the river is a regular need. MRWA distributes mesh bags for clean up to any group that is willing to help. This year the Bridgeton Cleanup Crew filled a large truck with steel, bottles and even a wooden deck hauled from the River. A group of concerned Evart citizens cleaned up the riverbank in their area. Thanks to all who make these important efforts.