Mending a River

West Michigan’s Rogue is channeling aid beyond its banks.
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Mending a River
Photography by Stacy Niedzwiecki

Fixing a river is no easy task, even more daunting if it drains a five-county watershed with its farm fields, cow pastures, road crossings and communities.

But Nichol De Mol is a determined woman. The 35-year-old biologist from Muskegon spearheads a unique Michigan project that was created by Trout Unlimited, a national cold water conservation organization. The non-profit group has spotlighted the Rogue River in West Michigan, one of Michigan’s southernmost trout streams fabled for its steelhead runs and a tributary of the Grand River, the longest river in the state.

“There are two things we’re concerned about: warm water temperatures and sediment,” said De Mol, who was hired in 2010 after the Arlington, VA-based organization made the Rogue River one of its national priorities and part of its Home River Initiative. The program seeks to improve water quality and trout habitat on targeted cold water streams across the country.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials classify the Rogue as a high-priority steam. It drains a 167,625-acre (260 square miles) watershed including portions of Kent, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo and Ottawa counties where urban development is on the rise.  Converting lands from rural to urban use often results in increased non-point pollution entering waterways from run-off, storm sewer discharges and unstable water temperatures.

Trout, an indicator species for water quality, need cold, clean water to endure and gravel areas to spawn.  Too much silt or heat causes trout populations’ decline, along with the aquatic insects they eat.

De Mol wears many hats to get the job done. She may work one day with sixth graders collecting these insects and water samples, priming a new generation of caretakers.

The next may be spent meeting with program donors, regulatory or granting officials, or road commissioners, city council members and riparians in the community.

“We are looking to restore areas by implementing practices that control storm runoff,” De Mol said. “That could be rain barrels, rain gardens or native plantings.

“We are looking to remove fish barriers like dams and perched culverts and want to implement storm water incentives.”

The Rogue Home River Project is supported by funding from the Peter Wege Foundation, the Frey Foundation, Wolverine Worldwide Foundation and local donations from the Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited chapter and private individuals, along with state and federal grants.

“We are trying to make the local community and decision-makers aware of the resource they have,” De Mol said.

Learn more at tu.org/conservation/watershed-restoration-home-rivers-initiative and michigantu.org, or call (231) 557-6362.


Sister Projects

The Trout Unlimited Home Rivers Initiative began in 1994 with the Beaverkill River and Willowemoc Creek in New York. The projects last from three to eight years on average. Current projects include:

Kettle Creek, PA
Upper Connecticut River, VT; NH
Potomac River, VA
Clark Fork River, MT
Musconetcong River, NJ
Nash Stream, NH
Shenandoah River, VA
Boise River, ID
Kickapoo River, WI
South Fork Snake River, ID
Blackfoot River, ID
Bear River, ID; UT; WY
Weber River, UT
Upper Deschutes River, OR
W. Branch Susquehanna River, PA


Award-winning writer Howard Meyerson resides in Grand Rapids.

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