40 Miles of Trout Stream Reconnected on Gilchrist Creek

Gilchrist Creek is flowing freely once again since conservation nonprofit Huron Pines replaced two undersized crossing structures at Carter Road and Greasy Creek Road, reconnecting more than 40 miles of coldwater trout habitat and fixing long term issues with road maintenance.

A timber bridge now stands where Carter Road crosses Gilchrist Creek east of M-33 South. Twenty miles upstream at Greasy Creek Road, a new bottomless arch culvert allows brook and brown trout access to vital spawning, nursery and refuge habitat. Both structures virtually eliminate the risk of erosion issues and road washouts.

The new timber bridge over Gilchrist Creek at Carter Road.

“From a road commission standpoint, we gained two new structures that should be very low maintenance for years to come and enhance the natural beauty (of the river) for the public to see and enjoy,” said Tom Behring, Managing Director of the Montmorency County Road Commission.

The former culvert and concrete headwalls at Carter Road.

At Carter Road, a sturdy wooden bridge now stands where a steel culvert long caused Gilchrist Creek to flow too fast, contributing to the erosion of a steep and sandy riverbank downstream and sending harmful sediment into the river. Gilchrist Creek now flows unobstructed under the new bridge, and cobblestone arranged around its abutments contribute to a natural look and feel compared to the crumbling concrete headwalls of the former culvert. Carter Road reopened to traffic Sept 9 but final touches won’t be completed until late October, Behring said.

Upstream at Greasy Creek Road, a bottomless arch has taken the place of two undersized pipe culverts that were a barrier to fish passage and posed a risk of road washout during times of high water. That roadway also reopened to traffic earlier this month.

“The new bottomless arch culvert at Greasy Creek Road is a dramatic improvement to the roadway and river over the severely undersized culverts that were there,” said Josh Leisen, Senior Project Manager for Huron Pines. “Fish and floodwaters can now safely pass through this new structure and this project has fixed all the issues of the old crossing.”

An aluminum arch now spans Gilchrist Creek at Greasy Creek Road.

These projects come on the heels of a 2020 project where a trio of undersize pipe culverts were replaced with a timber bridge where Harwood Road crosses Gilchrist Creek.

“Well-connected rivers are important for trout and other fish and wildlife that move throughout the river to spawn, find food and seek refuge,” Leisen said. “Reconnecting 40 miles of one of the highest-quality tributaries in the entire Thunder Bay River Watershed promotes a healthier trout population, restores river function, reduces flooding and erosion, and leads to safer roads and a cleaner river overall.”

Senior Project Manager Josh Leisen takes a flow reading at the old culverts where Greasy Creek Road crosses Gilchrist Creek in 2020.
The arch culvert being assembled from aluminum sheeting and staged on site this summer at Greasy Creek Road.

The projects at Carter and Greasy Creek roads cost approximately $500,000 and were funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program, Great Lakes Fishery Trust and Walters Family Foundation. Engineering was completed by KPM Engineering. Construction at Carter Road was completed by MacArthur Construction, Inc. of Hillman; and at Greasy Creek Road by John Henry Excavating, Inc. of East Tawas. The Montmorency County Road Commission contributed in-kind labor and equipment to both projects.

A fourth project in the same area, which would replace a trio of culverts with a timber bridge where Schmallers Road crosses Hunt Creek, will occur this fall.

Huron Pines is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization established in 1973 to conserve and enhance Northern Michigan’s natural resources to ensure healthy water, protected places and vibrant communities. With offices in Gaylord and Alpena, Huron Pines strives to improve economic, environmental, educational and recreational opportunities throughout Northern Michigan. To learn more, visit huronpines.org.

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