River groups continue project to reconnect East Branch at Fish Hatchery
Wed, 09/07/2022 - 12:05pm caleb
Anglers of the Au Sable, Trout Unlimited offer update to Crawford County Board of Commissioners on Thursday
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Anglers of the Au Sable and Michigan Trout Unlimited continue to work on a project to reconnect the East Branch of the AuSable River at the Grayling Fish Hatchery in a way that will not disrupt the historic facility’s current operations.
Anglers of the Au Sable and Trout Unlimited offered an update on the project to the Crawford County Board of Commissioners during a regular meeting on Thursday, August 25.
“Twenty-three miles of the East Branch AuSable River system is currently disconnected from the mainstream AuSable River system, for fish, by barriers in the river at the hatchery site. Reconnecting the two systems will improve the health of the fisheries in both, by allowing fish access to all available habitats beneficial to them. Reconnecting the two systems will improve them now, but is also about ensuring the long-term health of both for the future,” according to Anglers of the Au Sable and Trout Unlimited.
The overall goal of the project, officials said, is to “achieve fish and aquatic organism passage through the river at the hatchery site” in a way that “does not affect the current hatchery operations.”
In January of 2021, the two groups approached the Crawford County Board of Commissioners, asking the board for “approval/support” so they could “pursue funding to allow for a rigorous formal engineering analysis and evaluation” for the project. The commissioners approved the proposal with a 7-0 vote.
The August 25, 2022 presentation included an update for the board on the timeline of the project. Anglers of the Au Sable and Trout Unlimited said the project “secured funding through the DNR Fisheries Habitat Grant program” and “selected engineering/design consultants,” and had a “full site survey conducted.” Project organizers offered tours of the Grayling Fish Hatchery facility for the county commissioners and “conducted a survey of opinions regarding the project and site with key stakeholders to inform design alternatives.” Organizers “completed additional surveys, did hydraulic modeling,” and “developed and assessed design alternatives and feasibility analysis.”
Organizers said the next set of steps includes applying “for grant funding to pay for the entirety of the project.”
“If grant applications are submitted this fall, would know about funding awards by spring 2023, and might be able to then plan for the actual project work,” according to the August 25 presentation.
The presentation included photos of the Grayling Fish Hatchery showing different views of the site with details about how the project could alter structures and water flow to achieve fish passage goals.
Anglers of the Au Sable and Trout Unlimited offered a “Grayling Fish Hatchery Reconnect FAQ” for the board during the August 25 meeting.
“The reconnect project at the Grayling Fish Hatchery aims to allow fish which reside in the East Branch of the AuSable River to move upstream past the fish hatchery. Upstream movement is currently blocked at the hatchery by a dam and other channel constrictions. This project as designed would modify the East Branch of the AuSable as it flows through the fish hatchery property to allow for the movement of fish upstream and downstream. This modification would include the installation of ‘grade control’ structures upstream of the dam/bridge so all of the boards can be removed from the dam. The grade controls will be added upstream to prevent the river bottom from moving downward to meet the new elevation of the dam. The structures upstream will spread out the drop in a way which will allow fish passage while also keeping the water at the elevation necessary for entry into the hatchery. Downstream of the bridge the stream will be widened and constrictions will be removed. A new footbridge will also be built to allow for the circle path to remain. In addition, wood and rock will be added to provide a diversity of habitats and velocity in the stream channel. The raceways and demonstration channel will not be modified,” according to the FAQ sheet.
The project seeks to allow fish passage but boat passage through the Grayling Fish Hatchery would remain closed, according to the presentation.
“There are no plans to remove any fencing at the hatchery; therefore canoe access will remain unchanged. The fences must stay in place to ensure the hatchery is secure,” according to the FAQ sheet.
Joe Hemming, Anglers of the Au Sable President, on Friday, August 26, said the presentation went well, the county board approved the direction of the endeavor, and organizers are proceeding with the project.
“We’re on track for accomplishing what we intend to do. So far, so good. They seemed happy with what we presented,” Hemming said.