By Tom Noreen and Judy Reed
Many a Cedar Springs resident remembers fishing along the banks of Cedar Creek for brook trout, and telling stories of the one that got away. Thanks to a grant the city received to restore trout habitat by rebuilding the bank along Cedar Creek, those memories (and stories) will stay alive for years to come. And it’s all part of the Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative.
In an effort to protect the watershed, Nichol DeMol, Project Manager for Trout Unlimited, is working with local governments to review master plans and ordinances. She is also partnering with the local Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited organization, Rogue River Watershed Council, the West Michigan Land Conservancy, and other groups.
“Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited recently began work on a project along Cedar Creek, which will improve the stream bank and flow of the water through the City of Cedar Springs,” explained De Mol.
She and other volunteers have been gathering data to assess which areas need restoration and reconnection since last fall. They are collecting temperature data, looking at turbidity (clarity), and insect populations. Sampling aquatic insect larva provides a good look at the quality of the water, as some are very sensitive to thermal stress. She is also checking every bridge and culvert of tributary streams within the watershed to ensure fish can navigate through them.
Trout Unlimited’s Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative, which began in October 2010, is one of twelve such projects in the US and the only one in Michigan. DeMol said they chose the Rogue because of its location just north of Michigan’s second largest metropolitan area and because it is a coldwater watershed supporting trout populations throughout its drainage. She said, “This project will work over the next several years to address the impacts of urbanization on the river. The emphasis of the work will be to focus on restoration actions, working with local governments, and educating citizens.”
Even though the headwaters of the Rogue River lie in what was Rice Lake, which is now the muck fields east of Grant, 77 percent of the Rogue River watershed lies in Kent County. Its tributaries include Cedar Creek, Little Cedar Creek, White Creek, and Duke Creek in the northern park of the county. It drains a total of 262 square miles.
The Rogue River is home to steelhead, rainbow, and browns below the dam in Rockford. Above the dam you can find brown and rainbow. In the coldwater tributaries such as Cedar Creek you can find brook trout.
Trout need cold water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and prefer water closer to 60 degrees F. From De Mol’s data, during the summer months the Rogue’s temperature rises to the high 60’s while tributaries, like Cedar Creek, stay cooler. Cedar Creek’s average temperature is slightly less than 60 degrees F in the summer months. The warmest section of Cedar Creek is the portion that flows through the City of Cedar Springs. This is why unrestricted access from the Rogue to the tributaries is critical; fish must be able to move into the cold water as the river warms up.
Key factors that degrade the quality of the water are thermal stress and sediment. While 50 percent of the watershed drains agricultural land, the major sources of stress are from urban areas. As farmland has been converted to subdivisions and shopping areas, water has less chance to soak into the ground. This runoff carries with it both sediments and nutrients from lawn fertilizers and enters the streams at a higher temperature. When rain and snow melt are able to soak into the ground, sediments and pollutants are removed and the temperature is lowered. Retention and detention ponds that collect runoff also help reduce this problem, as do rain gardens for homes. Farmers help by leaving buffer strips around fields that act as a filter and slow down the runoff so it can soak into the ground.
Community outreach is one of De Mol’s projects for sustaining the watershed. She said that since these projects were started, all have been successful for both the community and the river. She is willing to speak to community groups, service clubs, and schools.
She also coordinated a Rogue River Cleanup on a three-mile section below the Rockford dam this spring and is hoping to collaborate with other communities, like Cedar Springs, when they conduct their annual Earth Day cleanup of Cedar Creek. Cedar Springs also recently received a grant for waders and trash picks to clean up the area.
DeMol is looking for volunteers to help with the monitoring. Training is minimal. If you live on or near the Rogue or one of its tributaries and are interested in collecting data at a specific location contact her at the email or phone number listed below. The next large monitoring effort will take place on October 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The link up location will be at the Algoma Township Hall.
For more information or on how to volunteer please contact Nichol DeMol via telephone at 231-557-6362, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.