MRWA Year in Review

Protecting, preserving, and restoring the river every day.

As noted earlier, 2016 has been a productive year for the organization with important restoration projects ongoing throughout the watershed. We are making improvements mid-stream, along shorelines and in nearby forests and fields.

As you might expect we have accumulated a mountain of information in support of these efforts, far too much detail to cover in this article. If you are interested in learning more about any of these projects, please visit  If you want to talk to someone who can provide clarity give Dixie Ward our outstanding project manager a call at 231 591 2334. She knows more about watershed restoration projects than anyone I know.

Meanwhile here is a brief rundown of the most significant work so far this year in the lower, middle and upper sections of the river

Lower watershed

With support from a number of valued partners, we have done some of our best work in the lower watershed this year.  Our focus has been on Bigelow Creek in Newaygo County, Tamarack Creek in Montcalm County and Bear Creek in Muskegon County.


Bigelow Creek

As you are probably aware, Bigelow Creek is an important cold-water tributary of the Muskegon River and this year we have given it the attention it deserves. We are working to restore and maintain in stream wood structure for aquatic habitat. Thanks to a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will restore two road stream crossings in order to improve fish passage and plant trees in riparian corridors to provide a canopy for shade and ground water filtration. As a result, 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

new road stream crossing tamarack creek montcalm county mi


old road stream crossing tamarack creek montcalm county mi


Many people ask, “what about working with agriculture on water quality improvement?” MRWA is doing just that with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding through the EPA. Farmers in the Tamarack Creek sub basin within Montcalm County have planted 1500 acres of cover crops and installed filter strips to prevent phosphorous from entering the creek, which connects to the Muskegon River. Thanks to help from partners including the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Montcalm Conservation District, Tamarack Creek flow cleaner with less harmful phosphorous.

Artman park after picture howard city mi montcalm county


Artman park before picture howard city mi montcalm county


We have also recently completed projects to restore and stabilize stream banks at Minnie Farmer Park and Artman Park in the Village of Howard City and Montcalm County, respectively. Next Spring, students from Tri-County Schools will help plant native species and beautify the parks. Finally, we have replaced three road stream crossings, which will reduce sediment from entering the creek.


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 was 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.


Little Muskegon River

Through the support of the US Fish and Wildlife Service MRWA has reforested 100 acres of riparian land near the Little Muskegon sub watershed within Newaygo and Mecosta Counties. Tree planting is vitally important for the Muskegon River. Did you know one mature tree absorbs 1000 gallons of storm water runoff in one year?  In addition, we will stabilize 6,000 linear feet of streambank, using native plants. The Muskegon Conservation District is collaborating with us on this important work.


Mid watershed


In October, Mecosta County residents were able to recycle tires and electronics thanks to the support of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Mecosta County Recycling. We filled over a semi-trailer of various electronics and another trailer of tires.   We also thank Cargill Salt for providing support for this project. As a part of this program, we have placed a cardboard recycling trailer at Van Drie Home Furnishings to ensure easier access. In addition, we have established two new mobile recycling sites and extended hours of operation at the Big Rapids recycling site.


Road stream crossing inventory

You have probably heard about aging infrastructure in Michigan. 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.


Upper watershed

Houghton Lake

We completed an Upper Watershed Management Plan in 2016. This plan will serve as the basis for future proposals to address riparian needs. The plan identified human E. coli as one pollutant affecting Houghton Lake.  MRWA is in the process of filing a proposal to remediate the problem.


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. Ferris students completed a cleanup of the river at the Big Rapids campus with help from the Sawmill Canoe Livery and Ferris student organizations. Thanks to all who make these important efforts.


Rain Gardens

With our support Fremont Middle School students from Terry Grabill’s class installed a rain garden at Fremont High School. Sarah Simons Grant Public School students worked hard to prepare and plant a garden at the Bridgeton Boat Launch.
Rain gardens make a big difference in absorbing and cleaning water before it reaches the river.


Education and Outreach

The MRWA education committee has reached over 1,800 students since the spring of 2016. In general, we help young people become acquainted with the watershed. For example in September, with support from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County we held a two day Muskegon Water Fest for third grade school districts in the county. We also conducted water education classes for Twin Lake fourth graders at the Twin Lake County Park. After training from the MRWA, Tri-County School high school students held a water fair for elementary children in Montcalm County.

The Newaygo County Healthy River Work Group, sponsored by the MRWA, held a morning event to teach all river lovers how the Muskegon River works and what they can do to help make it healthy. Over 50 people participated. The Fremont Area Community Foundation provided support for this project.

MRWA works to prevent invasive species from entering our waters by educating boaters to wash their boats before and after they enter lakes and other waters. A mobile boat washer is located in Houghton Lake and in the lower watershed in Muskegon and Newaygo Counties. Our technician washed 151 boats and taught 627 people about the problem of aquatic invasive species in our waters. The US Forest Service and the Houghton Lake Improvement Board support this project.