Muskegon River system to benefit from demolition
Written by Muskegon Chronicle   
Thursday, 27 April 2006 07:34

One of Michigan's most dangerous and ecologically disruptive dams will soon be removed from the Hersey River, a major tributary of the Muskegon River.


The decrepit dam was built in the village of Hersey in 1930. It will be removed this summer, according to state officials and the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly.

MRWA officials announced Tuesday that the group has obtained $247,600 in grants to pay for the dam removal project. Removing the dam will improve several miles of the 21-mile-long Hersey River, a cold water river that flows into the Muskegon north of Big Rapids.

Demolishing the dam, and removing tons of sediment that has accumulated behind it, will restore the Hersey's natural flow and water temperature, improve fish habitat and increase recreational opportunities, local and state officials said.

"The Hersey River will be a great system to restore -- it really has great fisheries in it," said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "Historically, the Hersey was one of the best grayling streams this far south in Michigan."

Arctic grayling were discovered in Michigan in the 1850s -- in the Hersey River, according to historical records. Grayling were considered one of Michigan's most spectacular fish species until excessive fishing, the practice of floating logs down rivers and dams eliminated the species from the state in 1930.

The Hersey Dam is one of 94 dams remaining in the Muskegon River and its tributaries. There are about 2,600 dams across Michigan, according to state records.

Removing the Hersey Dam is another step toward restoring natural water flows throughout the heavily altered Muskegon River system, said Gale Nobes, chairman of the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly.

"We're happy to be making progress in dealing with one of the major issues in the watershed, the alteration of hydrology (natural water flow) due to the multitude of small dams," Nobes said.

The Hersey Dam has been crumbling for several years but the village of Hersey lacked the money to remove or repair the structure, village President John Calabrese said. Water squirts through cracks in the dam when water levels rise in the river, he said.

"It's really a mess -- I'm glad it's on the docket to go," Calabrese said.

Village officials have worried for years that heavy rainfall or periods of snow melt would burst the dam, flooding the small community and sending tons of sediment into the Hersey and Muskegon rivers, Calabrese said.

The dam removal project will be paid for with grants from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ($50,000), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation ($75,000) and several smaller grants from the state of Michigan. Grand Rapids philanthropist Peter Wege contributed $136,900 toward the project.

The Hersey project is the second significant dam removal in the Muskegon River system in recent years. The Big Rapids Dam was removed from the main branch of the Muskegon in 2001.
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