As winter settles upon the town of Gaylord, which averages 141 inches of snow each year, Brad Jensen, executive director of the conservation organization Huron Pines, is increasingly working with local communities to find ways to manage storm and seasonal runoff to keep northeast Michigan streams clean
Small communities, he noted, often don’t have a lot of requirements for how those waters get managed. And the result can be some type of impairment from bacteria and other pollutants.
Huron Pines, a 45-year-old Gaylord nonprofit, is known for its long succession of field projects that improve regional waters. Its focus is conserving the forests, lakes and streams of northeast Michigan.
In 2016, Huron Pines managed the removal of the Golden Lotus Dam on the Pigeon River, near Vanderbilt in Otsego County. After nearly 100 years of being dammed, the popular trout stream was returned to a free-flowing state, improving conditions for trout. In 2017, the group removed Buhl Dam on Pine River. It also replaced various undersized and perched culverts on public and other lands that hindered fish passage to upstream waters. Huron Pines’ staff spent five years working to improve the Rifle River. It has since shifted its efforts to the Au Gres River, which empties into northern Saginaw Bay.
“We used to have to fight to restore a place in the middle of nowhere,” Jensen said. “We’re doing more work now with community partners. In the old days, we treated invasive species and moved on. Now, we work with public works staff and provide resources to them so they can incorporate that into their own work.
“One of the issues in any waterfront community is problems with stormwater runoff. Our new goal is to work with every coastal community along Lake Huron, using money from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Office of the Great Lakes — to work hand in hand to implement best management practices.”
In Au Gres, for example, Huron Pines approached a school and encouraged construction of rain garden, an attractive landscaping solution for dealing with runoff from paved areas like parking lots or rooftops.
“Ultimately, we want the school kids to talk about work they did and take it to city council,” Jensen said.
Educating children has become an important part of the organization’s community engagement strategy. In August, the group received an 80-acre land donation and a structure near Hubbard Lake in Alcona County. It is being developed into a nature preserve, where adults and children can enjoy wildlife and learn more about the importance of natural resources.
“This might seem like a big change of direction for us, but we’d like to have a few of those, not just to preserve land in perpetuity, but for educating the public,” Jensen said.
A forest health bird walk tour has been held at the preserve, as well as an autumn olive program to teach private landowners how to manage and remove the invasive plant. A grand opening is planned at the preserve in spring 2019. For more information, see huronpines.org.
Howard Meyerson is the managing editor for Michigan BLUE Magazine.