Comprehensive History of the Little Manistee Watershed Conservation Council

The Little Manistee River flows in a northwesterly direction for 67.1 miles from its headwaters in a series of swamps in eastern Lake County and portions of Wexford County at an elevation of 1206 feet above sea level eight miles east of the village of Luther. The Little Manistee River watershed drains 145,280 acres in Lake, Wexford, Mason, and Manistee counties. Below the dam in Luther, the river is free-flowing for fifty-five miles until it empties into Manistee Lake at the town of Stronach (elev. 602’ above sea level) making it one of the steeper gradient rivers in the Lower Peninsula. The state of Michigan has designated the Little Manistee a high quality “Blue Ribbon” trout stream, and it is an extremely important steelhead fishery as it is the only river providing harvested steelhead eggs (at the Little Manistee River weir below 6 Mile Bridge) for the state’s hatchery system which is the core of the entire Great Lakes steelhead stocking program. The river’s fishery is sustained by the natural reproduction of anadromous steelhead as well as resident populations of Brown (both introduced in the Great Lakes in the late 1880’s) and Brook trout. Chinook and Coho salmon from the Pacific were introduced in in the river in the mid 1960’s, and there is an annual fall salmon egg take operation at the weir begun in 1968.


little man watershed


The river is one of the coldest and most stable streams in Michigan, due in large part to a groundwater-feeding system. Gravel substrate is present in the numerous riffles in the middle sections of the river, but shifting sand is the predominant stream bottom type in the upper and lower sections. Historically the river and its natural fish habitat have been degraded by the lasting effects of the logging industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which resulted in sedimentation of the riverbed primarily from bank erosion, and while the eco-system slowly regenerated itself, and the land was naturally reforested, damage to the river remained. In the 1930’s crews from the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) began conservation and restoration practices building fish covers and planting large trees along the banks. In the mid-1950’s the Michigan Conservation Department (now the MDNR) began fish habitat restoration projects along sixty-one miles of the river, but subsequent riparian development and recreational use contribute to the continuing degradation of the watershed’s resources. The watershed area is primarily forest with scattered rural residential areas. There is some farmland above Luther and in the Cool Creek area. 53.2% of the land in the watershed is owned by either the state of Michigan as part of the Pere Marquette State Forest or by the United States Forest Service as part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest.

In the fall of 1986 the Luther Dam failed, and its reconstructed replacement failed in 1992. These events released tons of sand and sediment from the backwaters downstream as well as causing a “Once in a hundred years” flood, scouring the river basin and severely damaging he eco-system and the fishery.

In 1994, John Gorys and Howard Roberts, riverfront property owners on the Little Manistee River, were appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to serve on a committee studying the desirability of having the Little Manistee River designated a “Wild and Scenic River.” In October of that year, they circulated a questionnaire to Little Manistee riverside property owners. The questionnaire provided valuable information concerning not only the Wild and Scenic River program, but also a variety of other land use principles which would protect the watershed without the national designation, and respondents were encouraged to consider and prioritize their concerns about the health and use of the river as well as means of protecting the resource into the future. Fifty-five percent of the respondents saw a need to “Organize private groups to implement erosion controls/habitat restoration, advise on wise use of properties.”

Since action on the “Wild and Scenic River” designation was unlikely, John and Howard initiated the process of creating a watershed organization to protect and rehabilitate the river. Its mission:

Is to bring together persons and organizations who have an interest in the resource conservation and restoration of the Little Manistee River and its watershed. Our goals are to restore, protect, and preserve the natural character of the watershed by communicating resource problems and then offering and implementing problem resolution. We are a state chartered non-profit, tax-exempt organization. All contributions are tax deductible under §501c{3} of the IRS code. Our business is conducted by a council of trustees elected by the membership. All positions are voluntary, non-compensated. (Revised 1999).

On April 27, 1996 twenty riparian owners met at the Elk Township hall. John Gorys presided at the meeting that determined the mission of the fledgling group would be the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the Little Manistee Watershed resources by seeking broad support from riparian property owners as well as private individuals and public and governmental agencies. At a subsequent meeting on the 6th of June, the organization was named the “Little Manistee Watershed Conservation Council.” The Board of Trustees was established on July 6th with board members Marion Belding, John Gorys, Gordon Lewis, Kaye MacDonald, James Mason, Dave McIntire, Karen McIntire, and Howard Roberts. John Gorys was elected Council president and Karen McIntire Secretary/Treasurer. The Council’s Bylaws (see appendix) were adopted on July 17, and Articles of Incorporation (see appendix) were finalized by Gordon Lewis and submitted to the state of Michigan on the 18th of July. The Council received its non-profit charter on August 18th, 1996. In December of that year, a partnership agreement was drafted and entered into by various units of government, business and private sector organizations interested in the well-being of the Little Manistee River Watershed moving into future. The agreement states:

The parties committed to this partnership are united by a mutual concern for the conservation and improvement of the water quality, fisheries, wildlife, forestry and free-flowing characteristics of the Little Manistee River; along with the belief that the restoration of this river will provide aesthetic, recreational, and economic benefits for the region and the state.

The impact and significance of the far-sighted and far-reaching goals and commitment of the first board members cannot be overly appreciated. The thoroughness of their early work providing focus, purpose, and structure to the organization has positively affected the health of the watershed and all who enjoy and treasure the resource. What they created and subsequently implemented and the principles that governed their efforts continue to guide and shape the Council.
While the administrative work was being completed, the Council was already acting on its principles. It filed for federal I.D. and 501c3 designation for tax exempt status. A membership solicitation resulted in 120 members, paying an annual dues of $20.00. A newsletter, “Little River News,” was circulated in December of 1996, and private donations that year totaled $1750.00. In addition, a grant of $16,000.00 was awarded to the Council by Michigan’s DNR Department of Fisheries for work on bank restoration.


1997 Events:

  • Six bank restoration permits were issued and 646 feet of banks were restored with rock rip-rap.
  • Four sites in the Carrieville Campground area were stabilized with rock and terraced banks.
  • A LMWCC logo was approved, designed by trustee Dave McIntire.
  • A program to sell promotional items to raise funds was initiated.
  • At the second Membership Meeting in May presentations on sea lamprey infestation and bank revegetation. LMWCC distributed 200 seedlings to members for bank revegetation.
  • The newsletter was circulated to members quarterly.
  • The trustees decided that the Council would remain politically neutral and assume an “organizational position” on legislative/regulatory issues only after canvassing members for consensus.
  • At the end of 1997, the Council’s membership had grown to 180.


1998  Events:

  • Rock rip-rapped and terraced 480 of eroded bank sites assisted by 38 volunteers.
  • Completed a whole tree revetment on an erosion site where rock delivery was impractical.
  • Distributed 3,600 coniferous seedlings provided by Global Releaf to members.
  • Conducted a “Bank Erosion Survey,” identifying 85 sites in need of remediation.
  • Working with the Little Manistee Watershed Restoration Committee, the approaches to Six Mile Bridge were paved and curbed to eliminate sand and sediment entering the river.
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the Little Manistee Partnership a $4,000 grant.
  • Pine River Chapter of Trout Unlimited contributed $400 to LMWCC for restoration projects.
  • Kalamazoo Valley Chapter of TU contributed $200.


1999 Events:

  • Completed 11 bank restoration projects using volunteers.
  • Distributed 1,000 coniferous seedlings and a variety of deciduous seedlings for stream bank planting at restored sites.
  • An ORV crossing was installed below King’s Highway, constructed and funded by the DNR Forestry Division to reduce sand deposits into the river.
  • The Little Manistee Partnership distributed 1,000 fir seedlings from Global Releaf for stream bank plantings by LMWCC volunteers.
  • To promote environmental education, LMWCC supported a field trip to the weir for local seventh and eighth graders to observe the egg-taking operation. This program evolved into Salmon-in-the-Classroom.
  • LMWCC worked with the Luther Village president to create an “Emergency Action Plan” in the event of another dam failure (one occurring in 1986 another in 1992).
  • USFS completed a major 1,000-foot stream improvement project on Cool Creek to create fish habitat.
  • Little Manistee Partnership was awarded $20,000 from the Michigan DNR Fisheries Fund.
  • The Annual members’ meeting raised $2,400.00.
  • Membership totaled 186.
  • 2000 Events:
  • Completed 14 bank restoration projects.
  • Distributed 425 deciduous seedlings to members for bank revegetation and stabilization.
  • Conducted the first annual macro-invertebrate “bug study.” LMWCC volunteers were trained by a DEQ representative in the methodology and identification of the collected insects.
  • LMWCC also instituted the first annual “Water Quality Survey.”
  • LMWCC’s Mrion Belding conducted a six week “Summer Community Education Class” exposing youngsters to various aspects of fishing and the outdoors.
  • The Little Manistee Watershed Restoration Partnership received a $100,000 award from 319 separate funds to develop a Watershed Management Plan and make further bank restoration and road crossing improvements.
  • The board of Trustees initiated a $10,000 sand trap fund for the installation of a sand trap below Old Grade Campground with the understanding the maintenance of the trap will be jointly shared by LMWCC and USFS.
  • LMWCC received a grant of $40,000 from a private foundation to install a second sand trap between Poggensee Bridge and 18 Mile Bridge.
  • 2001 Events:
  • Free seedlings were provided to LMWCC members as part of the bank restoration program and to improve wildlife habitat.
  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • 2,500 seedlings were planted on sites that had been restored the previous year.
  • The Philip B. Wagley sand trap was installed downstream from Driftwood Campground and funded by a private donation.
  • A second sand trap was installed downstream from Old Grade Campground.
  • Conservation Resource Alliance (CRA) completed a Little Manistee Watershed Management Plan with funding from the MDEQ319 grant. The plan, approved by the DEQ will identify the watershed’s problems and resources and detail means of resolving he problems and protecting and improving its resources.
  • As part of its continuing community out-reach, LMWCC participated in “Outdoor Day” for sixth graders from the Brethren Middle School. Over seventy students were educated on the importance of our water resources.
  • Through a private member donation, LMWCC began funding a “Salmon Propagation Project” for the Environmental Science class at Brethren High School. This became the Salmon-in-the Classroom program.
  • The annual meeting raised $2,067.84.


2002 Events:

  • A new stream bank erosion survey was conducted by LMWCC members, and the data was compiled and collated by CRA and published as “Little Manistee Bank Erosion Inventory” to be used in selecting sites for future restoration projects.
  • Working with the Lake County Road Commission, LMWCC was instrumental in having 10 Mile Road paved from Bass Lake Rd. to the top of the hill at Driftwood Campground to prevent sand and sediment from washing into the river at Poggensee Bridge. Funding for the project came from LMWCC, Elk Township, USFS, and the Lake County Road Commission.
  • Reached a settlement with a private developer whose non-permitted project resulted in severe sediment and erosion damage to areas previously restored by LMWCC.
  • Seedlings were available at the annual meeting for members to plant for erosion prevention.
  • A breach at the weir permitted spawning sea lamprey to migrate upstream necessitating a TMF treatment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • LMWCC provided aquarium equipment for students at Brethren High School in which to nurture Chinook salmon eggs to be released as fry into Bear Creek.
  • The trustees agreed to help Council members with the permitting costs and procedures for erosion control projects.
  • Annual meeting raised $2,067.84.


2003 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • An inventory of woody debris in the river was completed which will be used in determining the locations of future fish habitat projects.
  • LMWCC conducted an inventory of 82 road crossing sites and their contribution to increased sediment and bank erosion.
  • Excavation of the sand traps at Old Grade and the Wagley property was undertaken.
  • Culverts were replaced and road surfaces paved at Hamilton and Nelson roads facilitating the free flow of Stronach Creek to prevent flooding. Funding was provided by a grant from MDOT.
  • Pilot fish habitat projects were completed including log jams, island units, and lunker structures on 1000 feet below Driftwood Valley Campground.
  • The Council created a website — www.lmwcc.org.
  • LMWCC apparel was made available at the annual meeting to raise funds for future projects.
  • The annual meeting raised $2704.63.
  • Membership totaled 215.
  • Founding member Howard Roberts passed away.


2004 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • 325 seedlings planted at three sites identified with moderate erosion.
  • Maintenance and excavation of the Wagley, Cool Creek, and Old Grade sand traps was continued.
  • LMWCC completed an inventory of stream bank crossings along the length of the Little Manistee River.
  • The trustees approved an Adopt a Stream program — “River Steward Program.
  • Metal signs to be placed at nine stream crossings identifying LMWCC with its logo and motto — “Protect-Preserve-Enjoy” were ordered.
  • Michigan Outdoor Writers Association commended the Council for its continuing volunteer efforts to preserve, protect, and enhance the waters of the state of Michigan.
  • In memory of founding trustee, Howard Roberts, the trustees created the Howard Roberts Memorial Fund with all donations to be used exclusively to create fish cover structures in the river.
  • Annual meeting raised $6164.35.


2005 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Completed a bank restoration terracing project in the vicinity of “Hopper Junction” below 9 Mile Bridge.
  • Continued maintenance and excavation of the three sand traps.
  • Began fish cover projects at Bear Track Campground.
  • Created a volunteer “SWAT Team” to clear the waterway in an environmentally responsible manner.
  • Annual meeting raised $9,026.93 an increase of 46% over the previous year’s take.


2006 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Completed four bank restoration projects and planted trees on stabilized sites.
  • The trustees adopted a resolution limiting commercial use, tree cutting and removal of woody debris on the Little Manistee River.
  • Continued maintenance and excavation of the three sand traps.
  • 4 fish cover structures installed in the vicinity of Bear Track Campground.
  • Applied to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for inclusion of the Little Manistee River in the Natural River Program.
  • A culvert over Butterfly Creek on 4 ½ Mile Rd was replaced and approaches paved to reduce sediment deposited into Brook Trout tributary. Funding by USFS, LMWCC, and DNR.
  • $5,000 from the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy plus $5,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be applied to a fish cover project on Twin Creek below M-63.
  • A generous donation was made by the Flint River Valley Chapter of Michigan Steelheaders.
  • Annual Meeting raised $2253.91.


2007 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • LMWCC contributed $5,000 for the re-paving of the approaches to DeWitt Bridge to reduce erosion and sedimentation of the streambed.
  • Completed the installation of forty fish cover structures on the East Branch of Twin Creek.
  • Installed 10 fish cover structures on 40’ of the West Branch of Twin Creek.
  • Began fish cover project at Old Grade Campground.
  • Continued maintenance and excavation of the three sand traps.
  • Erosion sites at Spencer Bridge and Hopper Junction were remediated.
  • MDOT replaced the old Fox Bridge.
  • Michigan Wildlife Conservancy increased their grant from $5,000 to $10,000 to be matched by LMWCC for on-going habitat improvement programs on Twin Creek.
  • Annual meeting raised $7,260.57.


2008 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Remediated erosion sites below Johnson Bridge and a site between Spencer Bridge and Old Grade Campground.
  • Rebuilt the canoe launch site at Bear Track Campground.
  • Installed 24 fish cover structures as part of the Driftwood Valley Campground project.
  • Discontinued the operation of the Wagley sand trap and restored the site to its natural state.
  • Streamside Systems awarded a $20,000 grant for installing an automated sand trap in the river. The grant was later withdrawn.
  • Annual Meeting raised $5454.00.

2009 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • The Driftwood Valley Campground fish cover project was completed.
  • A fish cover project at Fox Bridge was begun.
  • Due to increasing costs and the reluctance of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continuing its financial support, the remaining sand traps were decommissioned and LMWCC was released from its financial burden of their maintenance..
  • Three road crossing improvements were made: Frank Smith Road over Manistee Creek, M-37 bridge, and 6 Mile ridge
  • The Kalamazoo Chapter of Trout Unlimited made a $2,000.00 in-kind gift of materials for continued fish habitat construction projects.
  • The River Care program of CRA awarded LMWCC a $1,000 grant.
  • Annual meeting raised $5515.00.


2010 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Continued the Fox Bridge fish cover project.
  • The Old Merrillville ORV bridge crossing was replaced.
  • Annual meeting raised $5101.00.


2011 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Completed the permitting process for Syers Creek brook trout habitat restoration project.
  • Completed the Fox Bridge fish cover project.
  • Began permitting process for habitat restoration and fish cover project at Indian Bridge.
  • Placed metal LMWCC signs bearing the LMWCC logo and motto, “Preserve-Protect-Enjoy” at major river crossings.
  • CRA completed a partial woody debris and bank erosion survey and submitted a grant request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to fund a $155,000 River Channel Restoration Project.
  • Annual meeting raised $4938.02.


2012 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Completed the Syers Creek brook trout habitat restoration project using grant monies from Patagonia and the Michigan Fly Fishing Club.
  • Installed wing dams and completed a bank remediation project at the DNR
  • access site at Indian Bridge.
  • Patagonia awarded LMWCC a grant of $6000.00 for the Syers Creek brook trout habitat restoration project.
  • Michigan Fly Fishing Club awarded LMWCC a grant of $3850 that was applied to the Indian Bridge project.
  • Little Manistee Land Owners Association contributed $1,750.00 to be matched by LMWCC for the completion of a fish habitat project.
  • Annual meeting raised $2949.00.


2013 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • Reinforced the wing dams at Indian Bridge by placing 20 trees behind each.
  • LMWCC commissioned aquatic biologists from Michigan Trout Unlimited to conduct a river length evaluation of fish habitat and available woody debris in the river. The report will also include population data derived from electro-shocking at specific sites along the river.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a revised grant request from CRA to fund $65,000 for a channel restoration project.
  • Annual meeting raised $3812.00.


2014 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • A site below the weir was chosen for the “Little Manistee Land Owners Association project” a fish habitat construction and installation project.
  • A site above 9 Mile Bridge was selected for CRA’S channel restoration project funded in part by a $65,000 grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is known as the “Ghillespy project.”
  • CRA completed its “Little Manistee River Eroding Stream Bank Assessment” from King’s Highway Bridge to Old Stronach Road Bridge identifying erosion sites with photographs and GPS coordinates and rating them according to degree of severity.
  • The TU team completed its habitat study and fish population survey which will be used to selected sites for in-0stream habitat restoration and improvement projects.
  • Greg Goudy of Michigan DEQ suggested to the trustees that LMWCC consider the development of a Watershed Management Plan. Among the several advantages to this program are the creation of uniform standards pertaining to riparian development and increased accessibility to both public and private grant monies.
  • The Jorgensen Family Foundation made a $10,000.00 gift to the Council.
  • Annual meeting raised $3871.00.

2015 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • “Little Manistee Land Owners Association project” — a fish habitat installation below 6 Mile Bridge was completed using matching funds ($1750 from LMLOA and up to $5000 approved by the LMWCC board).
  • Refurbished the structures at Driftwood Valley Campground by adding brush.
  • Installed access steps at Johnson Bridge utilizing a gift from the Jorgensen Family Foundation.
  • Continued the development of a Watershed Management Plan: established a steering committee comprised of LMWCC trustees, government officials, and interested private citizens, and began vetting candidates as potential drafters of the plan.
  • Invested a combined $44,000 with Manistee County Community Fund in three separate funds: one to grow the LMWCC’s operating capital; one to begin the implementation of the Watershed Management Plan once it is complete, and one to attract potential donations to underwrite the costs of the plan.
  • Completed an inventory of LMWCC equipment and secured a storage locker for said equipment.
  • Trout Unlimited completed the follow-up electro-shocking survey of the river.
  • The Jorgensen Family Foundation made a gift to LMWCC of $10,000.00 be used for the installation of access stairs at Johnson Bridge.
  • Annual meeting raised $1649.00.


2016 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • CRA completed the “channelization” project on the Ghillespy property with grant monies ($65,000 from USFWS) and a $10,000 contribution from LMWCC.
  • LMWCC completed remediation of 10 stream-bank erosion sites (#10, 13, 16, 20, 35-37, 42, 53-54 from the CRA Erosion Assessment).
  • The Watershed Management Plan steering committee recommended Public Sector Consultants to write the Plan at a cost of $93,120.00.
  • Began planning for the removal of the dam on Syers Creek that has flooded the wetlands behind it and significantly decreased the natural flow into the main stream of the river.
  • The Jorgensen Family Foundation made a $10,000 gift to LMWCC to be used for installing fish habitat structures in section 3 of the TU habitat survey.
  • Women Who Care made a $3,400 gift to LMWCC as a contribution for the development of the Watershed Management Plan.
  • Annual meeting raised $5244.00.

2017 Events:

  • Both the macro-invertebrate study and the water quality survey were conducted.
  • CRA secured funding for the removal of the earthen dam depleting the flow into Syers Creek and flooding the natural wetlands above it. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has granted $40.000.00, and LMWCC has pledged $10,000.00 to support the completion of the project.
  • The Watershed Management Plan steering committee recommended that the relationship with Public Sector Consultants be terminated and replaced with Networks Northwest. Networks Northwest has worked with other western Michigan watershed organizations. Their bid for the project was $40,000.00.
  • All severe erosion sites not on public land have been remediated.
  • CRA is looking for a stretch of river that would benefit from a channelization project similar to that completed on the Ghillespy property. A possibility is a 1000 foot long shallow straightaway two miles below Johnson Bridge.
  • Permits have been secured for the fish habitat project in section III.
  • The trustees intend to up-date membership rosters twice each year: once following the Annual members’ meeting and again after the membership renewal campaign in January.
  • The website has been updated.
  • At a special meeting September 13th, called by Council president Tim Phillips, the board passed the following resolutions:
    • Resolution #1: Authorize Manistee County Community Fund to transfer LMWCC funds to the Little Manistee Watershed Plan account with the Alliance for Economic Success in conjunction with the Payment Schedule detailed in the contract established between AES and Networks Northwest.
      • The formal resolution appended to these minutes as Resolution #1was presented for approval.
      • The board passed Resolution #1 unanimously.
    • Resolution #2: Authorize the “Special Services Agreement” between AES and LMWCC in which AES will act as fiduciary representative for LMWCC in contractual obligations with Networks Northwest.
      • The formal resolution appended to these minutes as Resolution #2 was presented for approval.
      • The board passed Resolution #2 unanimously.
    • Passage of these resolutions enabled the Watershed Management Plan steering committee to begin the active development of The Plan to be written by Networks Northwest.
  • Crystal Mountain Resort donated a golf outing for 4 to the annual meeting raffle.
  • D-Loop Outfitters in Wellston donated two days of guided fishing and overnight lodging for the raffle.
  • LMWCC made application for a $40,000.00 grant from the DNR’s Aquatic Habitat Grant Program to convert dead ash trees along the river’s corridor to fish habitat structures.
  • LMWCC received a $5,000.00 grant from the Lake County Community Fund to be used for the development of the Watershed Management 12lan.
  • The Jorgensen Family Foundation donated 10,000.00 to the Council. One half will be used for the development of the Watershed Management Plan, and rthe other half will be used for the installation of fish habitat structures.
  • The annual meeting raised $3936.00.