MOLTKE TOWNSHIP - An extensive project focused on improving Silver Creek's water quality and spearheaded by a multi-county conservation organization is finished.
The Silver Creek "Super Project" brought together resources from many local, state and federal organizations, government or otherwise, to replace a series of culverts where the Ocqueoc River tributary crossed roads in the township, Patrick Ertel, Huron Pines project manager said. The total cost was $447,000, including in-kind services. Volunteers helped as well.
"To me, it's the importance of prioritizing and then bundling the priorities, and thinking of the watershed as a whole, not just a series of sites," he said. "When you can get people to buy into that, I really think that the flexibility and the initiative to do as much as possible is maximized."
Over 3 1/2 years, the project replaced 10 crossings, including two driveway culverts, Ertel said. The rest are on Church and Beech Grove highways, and North Curtis and Spens roads. By widening these crossings and hardening the road surfaces, the project eased fish passage into Silver Creek, lowered water temperatures and reduced the amount of dirt being washed into the creek.
The Ocqueoc, once a renowned trout stream, has been degraded over the years, Ocqueoc River Watershed Commission member Charlie Lyon said. Its falls and numerous lakes are a boon to tourists and residents alike, and helping an important tributary should help fish populations.
"The Little Ocqueoc and Silver Creek are very high-value nursery streams for brook and rainbow trout," he said. "Our attempt was to improve the habitat, and that's what our goal was."
These crossings were paid for with grants and donations from many organizations, including Great Lakes Restoration Initiative money, the Great Lakes Commission, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Wolverine Power Cooperative.
Other contributors were the Headwaters and Paul H. Young chapters of Trout Unlimited, the Michigan Fly Fishing Club, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Presque Isle County, Ertel said.
"Anyone who we felt had a vested interest in this, we leveraged what they had to give," he said.
The Ocqueoc River Watershed Commission put up $500, one-third of its annual budget, to get the project started, council member and Drain Commissioner Charlie Lyon said. Their watershed study, completed by Huron Pines in 2007, served as the guide, and Bearinger, Bismarck, Case and Ocqueoc townships contributed by helping to fund the commission.
The Presque Isle County Road Commission did much of the excavation work, with Moltke Township buying about $8,000 in gravel, Ertel said. Most of the road crossings were starting to fall apart, restricting fish movement or both. By partnering with the road commission, Huron Pines was able to get about $100,000 of labor, as well as $8,000 in savings by having the commission apply for permits, Ertel said.
In exchange, the road commission was able to fix these deteriorating road crossings for a fraction of the price, Superintendent Gerald Smigelski said.
"A couple of them were culverts that were concrete from the 1930s, and they were falling apart," he said. "And with the high costs for replacing the culverts, we got to share the cost with them."
This wasn't the first project where the road commission partnered with Huron Pines, Smigelski said, but it was the largest. As such, it was something of a learning process for both.
"We would be more than happy to participate in a similar type of project with Huron Pines," he said. "Along with the USFWS, they were instrumental in supplying the funding for this."
While construction may be done, Lyon and others on the watershed commission will continue to regularly monitor water quality and flows at various points throughout the Ocqueoc, he said. By measuring cloudiness, logging temperatures and looking at bacterial, phosphates and nitrates levels, they'll have data to show any changes in the river's ecosystem.
"It's about improving the quality of habitat, but also making sure it stays the way it does right now," he said.
Brad Jensen, Huron Pines executive director, said he loved how many different players aligned to help a watershed that most outside of the area don't know about.
"The project was so big that we felt like now that it's over and successful, it really shows what a community can accomplish when they put their best foot forward," he said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.