A Story of Recovery: Boardman River restoration looks better all the time

Frank Dituri (left) and Bret Fessell kneel in Grasshopper Creek where they find signs of aquatic insect life that was not there before the Brown Bridge Dam was removed. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Frank Dituri (left) and Bret Fessell kneel in Grasshopper Creek where they find signs of aquatic insect life that was not there before the Brown Bridge Dam was removed. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

While picking through the natural debris on the bottom of Grasshopper Creek, a tiny stream feeding the upper Boardman River, two scientists with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians began to get excited.

Brett Fessell and Frank Dituri both noted things that made them hopeful. Fessell is the tribe’s fish and wildlife coordinator. Dituri is their wetland ecologist. He is also chairman of the multi-jurisdiction implementation team guiding the Boardman River restoration. The multi-million dollar project involves removing three dams and modifying a fourth over the next several years. Brown Bridge Dam, most upstream, was the first to go in 2013.

Boardman Watershed Map and Dams

Source: The Boardman River Dams Project.

The three of us were canoeing though the 2.8 mile restoration area, the zone that was underwater prior to removing the dam. The former pond and backwaters, where paddling was once slow and laborious, had reverted to being a quick-moving river – today a joy to paddle.

What these scientists had discovered in streambed, set in a wild tangle of forest, were the empty cases of caddisfly larvae that had emerged, tiny conical structures made of fine gravel, found only in running water. Trout food, essentially; at very least, an indication of bugs that trout love.

“This place (the creek bottom) was all filled with mud,” Fessell explained, admiring the fresh gravel bed that was uncovered once the muck washed out, pushed by faster stream velocities made possible after pond waters went down.

“Now you have all these little pockets and pools – same as a larger river – and just as important for fisheries. This is going to be better spawning and nursery habitat. I am confident we will see more brook trout.” Continue reading

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Endangered Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery: What Now?

Kirtland's Warblers are at their all-time high in Michigan. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Kirtland’s Warblers are well above recovery goals in Michigan. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s endangered Kirtland’s Warbler appears to be well down the road to recovery. More than 2,000 singing males were reported in Michigan’s 2013 Kirtland’s Warbler census. That was the second consecutive year that the population was double the federal recovery goal of 1,000 singing males (breeding pairs)—a world away from 1967 when the bird was added to the federal Endangered Species List, or when its populations reached record lows in 1974 and 1987 and only 167 were found.

While the warbler’s rebound is reason for celebration, federal and state wildlife officials and Michigan’s conservation community remain concerned about its future. Successful recovery brings talk of removing it from the Endangered Species list, a decision that places the gray-blue and yellow warbler at a crossroad with respect to its future survival.

“This is a conservation-reliant species that continues to depend on our future action,” says Dan Kennedy the endangered-species coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “That’s why having a plan is so important.”

Kennedy is one of several who are working on a Kirtland’s Warbler Conservation Plan. He is coordinating that cooperative effort between his agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Huron-Manistee National Forest. The plan is to be released for public review this summer. It will guide future management and replace the federal recovery plan once the bird is delisted.

Delisting, however, is not an automatic step, according to federal officials. Known threats have to be addressed before that will be proposed. “We have two issues ahead,” notes Scott Hicks, the USFWS field supervisor in the East Lansing field office. “One is to assure an adequate supply of appropriate-aged habitat, and making sure there are commitments to manage for that. The second is cowbird control.”

The USFWS pays for cowbird control, an annual effort to trap thousands of the parasitic birds that threaten the warblers by laying eggs in their nests. Studies show the presence of cowbird chicks, which are larger, more aggressive, and outcompete for food, results in poorer warbler survival. The cost for trapping is approximately $100,000 a year. “It is paid for by endangered species recovery funding,” Hicks said. “If we delist the Kirtland’s Warbler, that funding will be redirected to other species. We will need another way to cover the costs.” Continue reading

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Grand Rapids couple to paddle the Mississippi for clean water

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling a tandem kayak on their journey down the Mississippi River. Photo:  Howard Meyerson

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling their tandem kayak on their 10-week journey down the Mississippi River. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Every now and then we get an opportunity to express in life those things we hold dear – a point where we live our ideals. Gary and Linda DeKock are two such people who do that regularly, but on July 19, when they launch their tandem kayak on Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, they will be challenged to do that daily.

The Grand Rapids couple plans to paddle 2,291 miles down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The trip is a fund-raiser for “Water for People (WFP), a Denver Colorado nonprofit that provides safe, clean water to villages in nine third-world countries. The DeKocks hope to raise at least $11,455, using a crowd-sourcing website called Crowdrise. That translates to $5 for each mile paddled.

“The cool thing about Water for People is they work on sustainable solutions,” exclaims 63-year-old Linda DeKock, a self-employed vocational rehabilitation consultant. “First-world people usually go and put in a well – then stand back and say: ‘There! Everyone is happy.’ And five years later the well doesn’t work – and the women are still walking five miles to get water. Water for People tries to go beyond that and have local communities invested in the outcome.

“Gary wanted to do a bike trip from Chicago to New Orleans, but I didn’t want to; I don’t like being on highways. So I said: ‘Why don’t we paddle from Chicago to New Orleans?’ He got a look on his face and said. ‘If we’re going to be on the Mississippi, we should do the whole thing.’” Continue reading

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North Country Trail: Fife Lake loop trail now open

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

FIFE LAKE, MI — The cool of early morning clung to the forest landscape and highway sounds carried through the trees, but Marilyn Hoodstraten and Deena Barshney were busy at their tasks, paint brushes in hand. Each was clad in warm clothes and they went about the job of painting a new kiosk for the 4,600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail. Arlen Matson stood by, ready with a map to be installed.

All three are members of the Grand Traverse Hiking Club (GTHC), a chapter of the North Country Trail Association. And this wasn’t just any trailhead sign.

Prominently displayed at the U.S. 131 Roadside Park, immediately north of the Manistee River, it directs hikers onto a newly opened 13-mile reroute located on the east side of the river. More importantly, it offers hikers and backpackers an alternative to the complexities of organizing a point-to-point hike.

The new trail connects in two places with the abandoned segment on the west side of the river, creating a 21-mile loop that allows backpackers to return to their cars – eliminating the need to spot a vehicle at the other end of a hike.

“This is exciting. The loop is perfect for a weekend of backpacking,” said

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Dick Naperala,a retired school teacher and GTHC member. He is the North Country Trail Association volunteer who conceived of the reroute and loop trail. Naperala bushwhacked 13 miles to establish its route. Then he worked with the Village of Fife Lake to get it to adopt the abandoned route. That segment is now called The Fife Lake Trail. It took two to three years and numerous meetings with village leaders, the Michigan DNR and Department of Transportation.

Camping is allowed on state lands all along the route as well as in two rustic campgrounds: the Old U.S. 131 State Forest Campground to the south; and the Spring Lake State Forest Campground to the north, near Fife Lake. The new trail starts out along Manistee River then heads north through the woods along the very scenic Fife Lake Creek, eventually entering lake country where the route passes by Headquarters Lake and Spring Lake.

“This new portion of the North Country Trail is so much more scenic with its overlooks, lakes and fast-moving creeks. The new trail also comes close to the Village of Fife Lake and this has become a win-win for everyone,” Naperala said, adding that Fife Lake Trail will have orange-colored blazes while the new NCT segment will have its traditional blue blazes on trees. Continue reading

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Brookie survey continues in Upper Peninsula

By Howard Meyerson

MARQUETTE, MICH. – Upper Peninsula fisheries managers are collecting data from b6ac3c1202c15e5fdfc0bdbe8d3dfb55five U.P. brook trout streams this season with the intent of adding three of those to the state’s experimental brook trout stream category in 2015. Five streams were designated as experimental in 2012 after months of public debate following a DNR proposal to double the daily creel limit to 10 trout per day all across the Upper Peninsula.

The blanket recommendation proved controversial and was met by opposition from a cross-section of anglers, as well as expressed concerns from academics and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who were working to protect coaster brook trout streams. DNR fisheries biologists said then that computer modeling showed brook trout populations would not be adversely impacted by the proposed change.

The experimental category was established as a compromise. It went into effect in 2013 with a promise that studies would be conducted to determine the impact of increasing the creel limit.

“We’re adding three more streams because it was the NRC’s and public desire to have that from the start,” said Phil Schneeberger, the DNR’s Lake Superior basin coordinator. “We’re gathering information on five candidate streams and will make a decision in fall about which three to add.” Continue reading

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Early season salmon calls for cold water tactics

David Kostecki, from Oakville MO (left) and Stan Kostecki (right),from Defiance MO, work to reel in two salmon as Captain Russ Clark looks on. Photo: Howard Meyerso

David Kostecki, from Oakville MO (left) and Stan Kostecki (right),from Defiance MO, work to reel in two salmon as Captain Russ Clark looks on. Photo: Howard Meyerso

By Howard Meyerson

BENTON HARBOR, MI — The sizzle of running line caught everyone’s attention. Another fish had hooked up and seemed to be running with a lure. It was just nine in the morning and the ice box was filling nicely. Captain Russ Clark, owner of Sea Hawk Fishing Charters had called it well; the anglers aboard Sea Hawk were having a good time.

“The water today is just 48.4 degrees F,” Clark had said earlier, at sunrise while motoring out beyond the St. Joseph pier. He is a 30-year veteran captain who runs his 36-foot Tiara out of Benton Harbor. “That’s 10 degrees colder than last year. Cold water seems to keep the fish in closer and longer down here in the southern part of the lake.”

The day’s fishing strategy was troll relatively close to the Michigan shoreline, in shallow waters from 40 to 80 feet deep. Salmon were in looking for something to eat. And from the time Sea Hawk mate, Don Sader, set the lines, the action was steady – with two and three simultaneous hook ups on multiple occasions.

This cool, sunny day was proving an example of Lake Michigan salmon fishing at its best

Captain Russ Clark steers his boat, Sea Hawk, into prime fishing waters  just after sunrise. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Captain Russ Clark steers his boat, Sea Hawk, into prime fishing waters just after sunrise. Photo: Howard Meyerson

– a welcome early season indication of things to come; the bottom had not dropped out as some reasonably fear.

“The fishing has been sporadic, but overall it’s been very good,” Clark offered. “We’ve had some 30 fish days, but a lot have been 10 or 12 fish days with a lot of salmon and steelhead and lake trout mixed in.” Continue reading

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Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary: America’s one and only

A new sign marks the entrance to the Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary. Photo: Howard Meyerson

A new sign marks the entrance to the Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

WHITE CLOUD, MI — April showers normally bring May flowers, but this year’s weather hardly has been normal. Lingering winter conditions and the late onset of spring delayed the usual early-season blooms at Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary, a delightful destination in the   Huron-Manistee National Forest where 400 species blossom throughout the season.

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Marsh marigolds were in bloom very early in the season. Photo: Howard Meyerson

“Prime time is tough to predict. It is really weather dependent,” explained Pat Ruta McGhan, botanist for the forest’s Baldwin/White Cloud Ranger District. “The earliest flowers come out in early to mid-May in a normal year. The blooms unfold throughout the season. It’s a rippling effect with something new every day. But, this year we are a bit behind.”

Loda Lake is America’s only National Wildflower Sanctuary; a project of  Michigan Garden Clubs, founded 65 years ago. Its quiet surrounds, northwest of White Cloud, are increasingly visited by nature lovers, school groups and wildflower enthusiasts. Continue reading

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Rogue River Expedition Highlights West Michigan’s Natural Beauty and Promotes Water Quality

Paddlers get ready for a spring float on the Rogue River upstream from Rockford. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Paddlers get ready for a spring float on the Rogue River upstream from Rockford. Photo: Howard Meyerson

There is a lot to be said for seeing things first-hand and a group of 100 paddlers will do that in June. That’s when they will explore the upper and lower Rogue River during a two-day float called Rogue River Expedition 2014.

The event is open to the public and should be a lot of fun. Those who paddle will enjoy the Rogue’s scenic natural beauty and learn about water quality issues.

The Rogue expedition grew out of the 2010 Grand River Expedition, an event where hundreds of paddlers explored more than 250 river miles over 12 days. That expedition is held once a decade. Its organizers decided  that the Grand’s  five sub-watersheds should be paddled on alternate years between Grand River Expeditions. The Rogue River is one of those.

I had the good fortune to paddle eight days on the Grand while covering the event for the Grand Rapids Press. What great fun it was –  and what a great group of people. I suspect the Rogue River Expedition will be no less lively  – and no less interesting.

If you’d like to learn more about the Rogue River Expedition, here’s my latest story for Experience GR Blog in Grand Rapids:  Rogue River Expedition Highlights West Michigan’s Natural Beauty and Promotes Water Quality.

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Dress for Immersion: Lessons you don’t learn when buying kayaks, offered at clinics

Children learn  balance during a class for kids at the WMCKA Sea Kayaking Symposium. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Children learn balance during a class for kids at the WMCKA Sea Kayaking Symposium. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

I was thumbing through a paddling catalogue the other night, looking for new wetsuit booties, when it occurred to me that a wetsuit top might also be in order. Lake Michigan is expected to be colder than last year due the huge influx of melt-water this spring along with cooler temperatures.

One maxim I adhere to when out in my sea kayak, is: “Dress for immersion.” I don’t doubt its wisdom. And, I’ll admit, it is one of those things I wrestle with when it gets hot outside. I’d rather dress for the air temperature – maybe in some nice nylon shorts and a quick-dry top.

But, I stick to the rule any time I go out in open water, where executing a self-rescue, or assisted-rescue with the help of a friend, might result in being immersed more than a couple of minutes. Time is not your friend when waters are very cold.

That evening, while browsing, I was reminded of an old friend and colleague; he died from hypothermia many years ago while kayaking offshore near Wilderness State Park on Lake Michigan. Things had gone terribly wrong. He ended up in the water dressed far too lightly. Tragically, he succumbed. Sadly, things might have gone otherwise. His wetsuit was stowed in his kayak. Continue reading

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Tiny flies and trophy brook trout at Brookhaven Lake

Big Lake Nipigon brook trout hit flies down deep. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Big Lake Nipigon brook trout hit flies down deep. Photo: Howard Meyerson

 

By Howard Meyerson

FARWELL, MI — The lure of big brook trout always hooks me. It’s rare I turn down an opportunity to fish them. So, when Jeff Johnson called and invited me to fish at Brookhaven Lake, his private two-acre pond stocked with Canadian Lake Nipigon brook trout, I gladly said ‘yes.’

Brook trout are delightful fish, colorful and often aggressive. I’ve caught them on crawlers, spinners and flies; diminutive and colorful but picky beaver pond brookies, and those that hit like lightning on Upper Peninsula streams.

I looked forward to the day ahead and hoped to redeem myself after getting skunked two years ago. That’s when I first visited Johnson’s property to learn about his project.

Johnson and his son, Michael, acquired Brookhaven Lake in 2010 as means of honoring Johnson’s deceased father, George Johnson, who had left them an inheritance and had long lamented the disappearance of the grayling in Michigan. The once prized stream fish, with its sail-like dorsal fin, disappeared following the ravages of the early 20th century lumber boom, which destroyed much of its habitat. Overfishing also contributed to its demise along with competition from later-introduced European brown trout.

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One of the smaller brookies caught this day. Photo: Howard Meyerson

The Johnsons honor his memory by stocking the pond with grayling each year. They also stocked it with 1,500 brook trout that have since grown and reproduced.

Youth groups, like Boy Scouts and school clubs, can arrange to fish for free and walk the self-guided nature trail on the property where they learn about Michigan’s trout fishing history and conservation.

“Be sure to let it sink. Count to 10, then strip strip strip,” Johnson instructed once we were out fishing from his driftboat. I began with a weighted, leech imitation. Our plan was to fish deep. The bottom was down 20 feet. But the lake surface was occasionally broken by the rise-forms of big, feeding brook trout.

Leeches, it turned out, wasn’t on the menu. Continue reading

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