This page focuses on two partnership for MEANDRS projects.

1. The St. Joe River Valley Fly Fishers are enthusiastic MEANDRS partners and have been engaged in small stream restoration in the Dowagiac Creek. Their support of restoration projects has been a remarkable contribution to the watershed, especially in encouraging future restoration projects following their success on the upper Dowagiac Creek.

2. MEANDRS has begun a pilot meander restoration project in Dodd Park. This is a major project which promises to be the highlight of 2000 - 2001 and will lay ground work for future restoration.

The Dowagiac at Dodd Park looking downstream.
Photo 1998 used by permission - courtesy of U of M

In 1999 the Partnership for MEANDRS identified Dodd Park, a 51 acre site in Pokagon Township (on Indian Lake Road, near Sumnerville just of M-51) as a prime site for a pilot meander restoration project. The site was chosen because it has an abandoned meander entirely on public property, which could be readily accessible.

Aerial Picture of Dodd Park

The site has great potential as a showcase to educate the public on the benefits of river rehabilitation. Educating agricultural and residential landowners about resources available for river rehabilitation and the potential benefits has been at the heart of MEANDRS efforts. Education is essential to the river's successful rehabilitation.

Grant money was sought to support the pilot effort and a Clean Water Action Plan federal grant administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was approved providing $209,000 over two years. Some $76,000 in local contributions will be sought from partner members and the public in both funds and in-kind services.

Late in '99 Joe Ervin was asked to manage the pilot meander restoration. He recently retired from Michigan State University after 32 years with the Institute of Water Research. The last 10 years of his work for MSU was spent in central Cass County working on EPA grants to study the impact of swine production on drinking water around Donnell Lake. He resides in the area with his wife (a Methodist minister) and children.

The project is moving forward in 2000, Joe has been busy reaching out to local organizations and property owners to seek their cooperation. Property owners in the vicinity were contacted and invited to discuss the impact of the project. The response has been consistently positive.

Jurisdiction over the park is held by the Cass County Road Commission which has approved the pilot meander restoration project. Park improvements under the plan could include a public viewing area and handicapped accessibility. The northern part of the park will be closed during construction, but the south end of Dodd Park will remain open for visitors both by land and by the river.

The Cass County Board of Commissioners has granted a $5,000 loan as seed money to kick-off the project. As of the Spring of 2000, several bids are out to consulting firms to handle the engineering. There will be a lot of manual work conducted by volunteers such as hand laying stones to create pool and riffle areas. Vegetation restoration will also involve hand work. A study is underway by Andrews University's Biological Science program to monitor the project and its impact.

The project's goal is to reconnect the meander to the river restoring the sloping banks along the quarter-mile section. The old river bottom is intact beneath approximately 18-20 inches of sediment in the meander. A dam between the meander and the river, created in the 1980s by Sauk Trails under a federal grant (designed for drainage of the abandoned meander), will be removed and the river redirected into the old stream bed. Hydrological models will be taken into account as well as an undredged contol site (just north of the mouth of Kinzie Creek) for comparison and reference in the engineering design.

Since the river bed in the meander has a higher elevation than the ditch, there is an expectation that a certain amount of "white water" will result and the restored stream at this point will be fast moving.

The project will seek to minimize release of sedimentation downstream. Sediment will be largely removed prior to the redirection of flow and the release should be gradual. Another matter of concern during initial phase is flood prevention involving the reconnection of flood plains. In the pilot project at Dodd Park it will likely be necessary to retain the channelized "ditch" as a flood control area.

Following are some "before" images of the project area taken in the Spring of 1999.



The partnership for MEANDRS has made substantial progress towards planning for the dechannelization of the Dowagiac River in Dodd Park near Sumnerville in Cass County. Funded by an EPA 319 grant administered by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the demonstration project will divert the flow of the Dowagiac River from the dredged and straightened drain back to the original meandering channel that was abandoned in 1918. The primary goal of this diversion is to promote the restoration of the many ecological functions lost when the river was dredged. Though there are many changes anticipated when the stream is again connected to its floodplain, one of the most exciting is the restoration of an excellent trout fishery in the mainstream of the Dowagiac River.

Robert Ausra, currently a resident and Supervisor of Silver Creek Township and formerly the Chairman of the Cass County Road Commission for 25 years, shared with MEANDRS his memories of the Dowagiac River (see History - ed.) when trout were numerous and frogs, turtles and snakes plentiful. "In the mid-50's the fishing fell off. My opinion is that when farmers began using weed killers and insecticides, the frogs, turtles and snakes disappeared along with the fish. Fishing today, limits are rare and size is small. I believe that the dredging had little to do with the fishing. The only thing to save the river is to create buffer zones along both sides of the river and its tributaries."

As Mr. Ausra says, there may be a number of reasons for the decline of the trout fishery in the mainstream of the Dowagiac River. The Partnership for MEANDRS, operating under the "umbrella" of the Dowagiac River Watershed Project and working with the Cass County Conservation Districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Cass and Van Buren Drain Commissions, is supporting better management of the land and water, including the installation of vegetative buffers throughout the watershed. It is interesting to note that most of the undredged tributaries to the Dowagiac River currently support reproducing brown trout populations.

(From: Newsletter for the Dowagiac River Watershed Project, 11th Ed. - Sept. 2000)



Information Gathering
Since early June, a team of ecologists, hydrologists, surveyors and engineers from Tetra Tech MPS, Inter-Fluve, Inc., and the Abonmarche Group have been at work meeting with representatives of MEANDRS, studying existing conditions in the Dowagiac River and the Dodd Park meander to properly design a new stream channel. (For more information on our consultants see: More MEANDRS)

The Abonmarche Group has surveyed the Dodd Park site and portions of the River upstream and downstream of the Park, providing information for development of a topographic map of the Park, along with elevations of the channel bottoms for both the existing Dowagiac River channel and the historic meander.

Aquatic ecologists, plant ecologists and geomorphologists from Tetra Tech MPS and Inter-Fluve have collected information (stream widths, depths, meander patterns, channel substrate measurements, etc.) form both the Dodd park site and a reference reach on the Dowagiac downstream, near Kinzie Street where the river still meanders, to use in establishing targets and templates for channel cross-sections for the Dodd Park restoration. They have also delineated wetland boundaries on the Dodd Park site.

Modeling and Design
Site information along with survey data, is being used to develop a hydraulic model of the meander site. Stream flows from the existing channel are "routed" through the meander channel in the model. Different iterations of this model are being used to test variations in design to ensure that the restored channel will be stable and that a connection between the river and the floodplain is restored.

The intent is to utilize the historic channel as much as possible and to maintain the existing riparian vegetation. Where this is not possible however, the hydraulic model also provides information on shear stresses within the channel, identifying areas where bio-engineered stream bank stabilization will be required to minimize erosion. All of this information is being used to develop a set of specific design criteria that will detail the hydrology of the restored meander, the frequency with which the floodplain at Dodd Park will be inundated, and the in-stream channel habitat provided for brown trout and other species. Once MEANDRS approves the final design criteria, then final plans and permit application will be completed. Construction of the new channel is expected to be completed by October of 2001.

Other Related Ongoing Activities

  • Fish and benthic (stream bottom) invertebrate surveys by MDNR
  • Arsenic studies on sediments in the original channel by MDEQ
  • Vegetation and small mammal studies by students from Andrews University
  • Bridge design/funding issues with the Cass County Road Commission

Next Steps
When the final channel design is completed, the permit process will proceed which will include a public comment hearing. Excavation and other site work will begin when permits are received. It is likely that most of the construction activities will take place in late Winter or Spring of 2001.

(From: Newsletter for the Dowagiac River Watershed Project, 11th Ed. - Sept. 2000)



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