By Howard Meyerson
Atlanta, Mich – A popular Montmorency County flooding now dry for several years will be replenished with water in 2016. Construction of a new dam at Foch Lakes flooding was completed in November. State officials say the 85-acre Atlanta State Forest impoundment will be refilled and that recreation there should resume as it has for many decades.
“It’s a big horseback riding and dispersed camping area. People fished there for pike, bluegill and bass. It’s right in the heart of elk-country,” said Tim Cwalinski, senior fisheries biologist with the Michigan DNR’s Gaylord office. “As soon as we drew it down in 2012, we had a lot of people yelling at us. But we said ‘Sorry, this is a failing structure that has to be fixed.’”
Foch Lakes was created in 1948 by damming Foch Creek, a tributary of the Black River. It is one of seven impoundments owned the DNR Fisheries division. In 2012, the agency was told by Michigan Department of Environmental Quality dam inspectors that the cracked and failing concrete dam had to be renovated or removed. It had been repaired in the past, but the time had come.
“The bottom of the dam was poured in 1948 and the top was poured in 1963 (when the impoundment was enlarged). It always leaked,” Cwalinski said. “We were told on the last round of inspections that they would allow no more fixes. We were told to drain it down.”
Fixing it, however, would cost an estimated $170,000, hard money to come by in lean times. DNR fisheries division decided to evaluate its use and popularity to determine whether the expense could be justified. Those findings showed that Foch Lake was very popular and highly used, but would get little use if left drained on a permanent basis –though the flooding contains two 20-foot deep natural basins within its boundary.
“If funding hadn’t been identified for the project, the dam would have had to be removed,” said Paul Rose, past president of the Upper Black River Council, a friends group that does habitat work in the Black River watershed. It provided support and funding for the Foch Lakes dam restoration. “This wasn’t a fish passage issue, but it (the impoundment) creates tremendous waterfowl habitat and habitat for cool water species.”
Cwalinski said $100,000 for the project came from a state dam management grant. The DNR still needed to raise a 20 percent match. Those funds, in part, came from the Upper Black River Council and the Montmorency County Conservation Club along with from fisheries division.
New stop logs were made for the dam, which will begin to be filled in 2016. Cwalinski said the fish that once swam there are probably in the two natural water-filled basins. He expects they will repopulate the area as the flooding is filled.
© 2015 Howard Meyerson
Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.