Woody Debris Management in the Huron River Watershed

Portage Creek-3

Hayden and I have been spending our weekends working to make the Huron and a couple of creeks that feed into the river clear and open for paddling. We have had fun cutting wood, floating logs, picking up trash, trudging through muck, feeding mosquitoes and paddling through beautiful scenery.

We have been following the principles of the clear and open method of woody debris management. This method of management allows for a low impact to the environment and promotes stream health by providing greater habitat for the many species that inhabit the river and its banks. It also allows for trained volunteers to perform the work without the need for a state permit. The basic goal is to provide just enough of a pathway for canoes and kayaks while maintaining most of the woody debris in the river as habitat.

Hayden and I have worked on a crew that has been organized by the Huron River Watershed Council. For our first few outings, we worked on Portage Creek between Toma Road and Little Portage Lake. This is about a 1.5 mile stretch of beautiful stream that passes through generally uninhabited land. On part of this stretch is the Reichert Nature Preserve, a great property owned by the Legacy Land Conservancy.

This stretch of creek, like most in Michigan, has been significantly impacted by the demise of Michigan’s ash tree population. Most of these trees have died and where they are near streams and rivers, many have fallen into the water. That makes for countless obstructions in the river. This stretch certainly typified that. We spent about 12 hours over 3 outings with a team of 5-6 volunteers clearing out the creek. Our work was very successful and the creek is now passable and is a beautiful paddle. We may go back to work upstream from Toma in the near future.

Portage Creek-2  Portage Creek-7

Portage Creek-11  Portage Creek-9

Today, the same team spent a few hours clearing out logjams on Mill Creek in Dexter. The work downstream from town was already pretty clear but we worked on a few areas and you can now paddle from the great new park where the dam was removed down into the Huron. We then paddled back up to where we started and portaged around the road and headed upstream. This stretch had a moderate flow rate and we paddled upstream for a bit of time until we got out of the area where the Mill Pond used to be, at which point, we found plenty of obstacles. We ended the day working on our biggest logjam of the season, and we were joined for 15 minutes by a heavy, driving rain. Surprisingly, at least for me, the rain felt good and made the experience all the better. After we finished our work on that logjam, we made the quick paddle back to town, through the not quite rapids, and ended our day back at Warrior Park.

Mill Creek-1

Our work has been a lot of fun. Generally speaking, someone from HRWC has been our leader as we all train on how to properly do woody debris management. Hayden has been our designated chain saw operator and has shown great teamwork and leadership skills in that role. It is fun just to sit back and help while he takes the lead. He and the rest of the team have worked very hard to make the watershed a better place to paddle.

There is also another team working on the main river up near Brighton. The stretch between Island Lake Recreation Area and US-23 is clogged up and hard to paddle. That crew, which I joined yesterday, has done a great job clearing out the stretch between Placeway in the park to just past McCabe Road. The work is a bit different there due to the high water levels. As many on that crew are landowners on the stretch we are working on, we are able to be on the land and pull debris and reposition it with ropes. The leader of that crew is very confident in the deeper water and does a great job tying off wood for the rest to pull over to a place where it may remain as habitat yet be out of the way for paddlers. So far that seems to be working well, but we will now need to move downstream and see what awaits us.

I am hoping to do a scouting trip down that section soon. I have greatly enjoyed this work as I have been looking for a way to help out the HRWC and our world, and getting out and doing some physical work feels good as well. If you ever get the chance to work on a crew like this, I’d say go for it!

One comment

  • You made it sound like fun and at the same time you are helping to improve the environmentNOt too long ago I read in the Elkhart Truth about a man who got in trouble with the state because he was dragging debris out of the river. This was stuff that people had thrown in,which makes the river pretty dangerous for boaters. People even put cars in. I don’t understand the states objection to this.

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