Eastern Alger County Watershed Erosion Control Project
East Alger County, MI

Basin Program Funds: $27,025
Non-federal Funds: $21,716
Project Duration: 07/2003 - 07/2005
Status: complete

Problem Statement
The East Alger County Watershed--Erosion Control Project area is in the Lake Superior Drainage Basin. The watershed comprises 195 square miles of forested land. The river and stream systems within the watershed area are Michigan State designated coldwater fisheries. The local community is concerned about the sedimentation of their harbor, impacts from future development, increased recreational activity, and maintaining a viable fishery. There is a lack of nonpoint source pollution education programming for the eastern Alger County community and schools, and no demonstration sites close enough for field trips other than sites that are examples of gross erosion in progress.

The sedimentation in the area is a result of the sandy, fragile soils and natural erosion processes, impacted and accelerated by past and present activities. These include historic logging and road building activities, associated stream diversions, and undersized road-stream crossings. Such crossings constrict stream channels and back up water during peak stream flows, destabilizing stream banks. The erosion problems are compounded by the historic burning away of the topsoil during slash fires. The lack of topsoil makes the burned over areas drier, more erosion prone, and retards natural plant regeneration. Impacts of erosion have been accelerate by heavy recreational activity in the area including sport fishing, unrestricted ATV and 4WD access, foot traffic and the launching of small watercraft at existing river bank failures.

Sand sedimentation of this river course has attracted breeding populations of the detrimental exotic species such as the Sea Lamprey, and impacted the reproductive capacity of the cold water fishery by filling the interstitial spaces in spawning gravel and rock, covering coarse woody debris, and embedding overhead cover. Sedimentation has reduced critical habitat available for trout and salmon spawning, aquatic insects, and fish prey bases. The sedimentation has changed channel morphology, caused down cutting, bank slumping and erosion. Heavy sediment loads from the Sucker River continue to flush out to Lake Superior causing accelerated sedimentation of local harbor and boater access sites, and impacting benthic fisheries assets offshore. On the upper portion of the Sucker River system, old logging slash and other woody debris has clogged the river channel, creating many slope failures and bank slumps. The Michigan DNR Fisheries Division has recognized the severity of the sediment deposition in the river system and has begun channel restoration and stream bank stabilization efforts. Preliminary assessments and inventory of the system by the Alger Conservation District has identified many areas with critically eroding stream banks and poorly constructed road-stream crossings.

This project established two erosion control demonstration project areas including interpretive signs, on two critically eroding access sites on the lower Sucker River corridor, one in the Grand Marais School Forest Road area, and one site yet to be determined. Both would demonstrate the latest soft engineering techniques for bank stabilization and erosion control. At each demonstration sites we will harden access sites to accommodate canoe/kayak access. On eroding sections of the upper Sucker River we will work with volunteers and school groups under the direction of MDNR Fisheries personnel, to open the river channel by removing log jams. The slope behind and just above the logs would be stabilized with geomembrane and vegetative bioengineering such as live stakes, brush fascines, seedings or transplants of native species.

Watershed meetings will be conducted to facilitate our community watershed planning efforts with watershed partners and to continue erosion assessment and prioritization of critically areas. We will periodically attend township and county board meetings to communicate with elected officials and receive input and help prioritize their resource issues. Educational outreach to Alger County public schools will consist of presentations of watersheds and wildlife related and nonpoint source pollution conceptual materials, combined with hands-on learning projects at demonstration sites. We will hold a “Watershed Appreciation Day” field activity for elementary students. Middle school or high school science classes will get lectures in the classroom, field time practicing scientific methods, recording data, and have a follow-up classroom visit to review the survey findings for discussion.

Project partners including the Lake Superior State Forest, The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and MDNR Fisheries Division, helped to prioritize erosion sites and develop remedial erosion control practices. Written permission of access was obtained from involved land owners. A major MDEQ permit was first issued for the worst erosion site on the river (Elzinga Property) to remove blockages, place debris, and shape and stabilize the stream banks. The sites will now serve as erosion control demonstration sites and encourage more local use of cost-effective techniques to reduce soil erosion at heavily used public access points, as well as private properties. Three vehicle/foot access sites received access stairs and other erosion control practices as part of the demonstration sites. A fourth site, a very large tree fall area in-river (Elzinga Site) and a smaller fifth site (Hebekizer property), were both cleared of blockages and stabilized with tree revetment and/or other erosion control practices. In addition, 3 miles of river channel were improved by in-river work, anchoring current deflector logs and removing blockages. This section has already recovered a significant area of quality spawning gravel that have flushed clean of sediment in the first year, and there has been improved navigability and access of the river for foot and float fisherman, canoeists and kayakers.

We also worked with area-wide school districts and agencies to provide educational presentations to area students of all ages. We prepared and distributed two issues of an Alger County-wide watershed newsletter to 10,400 households that included a citizen survey on natural resource management and recreation concerns. We developed unique curricula entitled: “Pollution, Erosion, and the Effects on Watershed Wildlife”. During the two year tem of this grant, we presented hands-on educational programs to 1,974 students (all grades), 103 teachers/counselors, and 779 other adults in a variety of school or school-related settings.

Contact: Ms. Danita Rask, 906-387-2222


Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150.  projects.glc.org. Join the Friends of the Great Lakes GLIN Partner