June 9, 2014 | Vol. 95, No. 135

Narrows Creek, Black River tributary, returned to original bed

BESSEMER - Narrows Creek is again flowing freely into the Black River.

Photo submitted
NARROWS CREEK is again flowing freely into the Black River, near Bessemer, allowing brook trout access to cool water in the summer.

A week ago, directors of the Gogebic Conservation District met at the Natural Resource Center in Bessemer to initiate a trip to the creek, a tributary deep in the Black River Wild and Scenic River area, administered by the Ottawa National Forest.

Joining them were representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Gogebic County Board of Commissioners, Natural Resources Conservation Service and members of the public.

The purpose of the trip was to determine how work done in 2013 had held up during spring flooding.

Narrows Creek is a coldwater trout stream in the lower part of the Black River watershed.

"In the great spring flood of 2002, the stream was rerouted, so that instead of flowing directly into the Black, it flowed through a slough paralleling the river, finally entering the Black through something like a seep," said Jim Finley, administrator of the Gogebic Conservation District.

Prior to that, Narrows Creek provided a summer coldwater refuge for brook trout from the lower Black River, and a spawning grounds for the fish in autumn.

"But after the destructive flood, that refuge was cut off completely," Finley said.

Gogebic County Judge Anders Tingstad was one of those who saw the transformation shortly after it occurred. He joined the group at the Bessemer offices, and detailed the early history of the reclamation effort.

Members of the then-active Ottawa Chapter of Trout Unlimited approached the U.S. Forest Service to fix the problem, and planning started, however that stretch of the Black was designated a Wild and Scenic River. "This complicated matters greatly," Finley said.

When the Ottawa Chapter of TU disbanded, Dan Perotti, chairman of the conservation district, and others on the board "picked up the mantle to champion corrective action," Finley said.

"With the help of forceful people from the U.S. Forest Service like Mark Fedora and Bob Gubernick, and Jim Caron of the Michigan DEQ, an action plan was agreed upon and federal funding obtained to do the work," Finley explained.

In 2013, Snow Country Contracting of Bessemer carried out the plan. Tons of boulders and cobbles were placed in the the mouth of the slough, blocking it off and directing the creek back into its old channel. A huge wad of blocking debris - trees and roots and a staircase, among other items - was removed from the old channel.

The downstream bank of the stream was armored with tree trunks to withstand floods.

The group found last week that the new juncture had survived the spring flooding with little change.

Perotti told the group that as a boy, he and his father had passed by the creek in November on a hunting trip, and he saw brook trout spawning in a stream for the first time.

"This is a good thing," said Perotti, noting trout now have relief from warm river water in the summer, and access to prime spawning beds in the fall.

Finley, a geologist, said the work looks capable of withstanding normal spring floods.

"Geologic processes like erosion and sedimentation go on year around, but big floods do the most work. This terrific conservation effort might only last a year, but maybe it will be here a century from now.

"However it works out, trout in the lower Black River now have a place to protect them and allow them to reproduce. It has to be a great addition to the scenic and recreational aspects of the Black River, and to all who cherish our beautiful brook trout," Finley said.