Timber Bridge Reconnects 10 Miles of Trout Habitat on Hunt Creek

The new timber bridge where Schmallers Road crosses Hunt Creek southeast of Atlanta.

Huron Pines has completed the fourth in a series of road/stream crossing restoration projects reconnecting vital coldwater habitat on two tributaries of the Thunder Bay River.

A new timber bridge now stands where Schmallers Road crosses Hunt Creek southwest of Atlanta. It replaces a set of three undersized steel pipe culverts that had been causing Hunt Creek to flow too fast through the crossing, contributing to erosion and creating a barrier for fish.

The completed project comes on the heels of three other road/stream crossing restorations Huron Pines implemented on nearby Gilchrist Creek: A timber bridge was installed at Harwood Road in August 2020, followed by an aluminum arch culvert at Greasy Creek Road and a timber bridge at Carter Road this summer. These four projects restored the natural flow of Gilchrist Creek and Hunt Creek, both of which connect to the Thunder Bay River.

“Hunt Creek is a designated trout stream and supports healthy populations of brook and brown trout,” said Josh Leisen, Senior Project Manager for Huron Pines. “Most of Hunt Creek flows through a well-forested landscape and, along with Gilchrist Creek, is one of the highest quality streams in the Thunder Bay River Watershed.”

The former crossing of Hunt Creek at Schmallers Road consisted of three undersized culverts with concrete headwalls. This structure created a barrier for fish and contributed to erosion of road material into the stream.

Leisen said the former crossing at Schmallers Road was narrow and that fast currents caused road material to wash into Hunt Creek. This input of sediment into the stream buries natural gravel beds which are essential spawning habitat for trout and refuge for macroinvertebrates like mayfly and caddisfly larvae on which trout feed. Additionally, water rushing through the culvert kept fish from accessing headwaters upstream of the crossing.

“By going with a timber bridge, we reconnected more than 10 miles of stream and eliminated that fish barrier,” he said. “The bridge deck will be paved and that will eliminate the sediment input and road maintenance issues there.”

Water Program Director Samantha Nellis and Coastal Project Manager Amy Nowakowski use dip nets to collect macroinvertebrates at the Schmallers Road site ahead of bridge construction.

Hunt Creek holds unique significance in Michigan’s fishing history as the home of Hunt Creek Fisheries Research Station. Established on the banks of the creek in the 1930s, the facility was a place for researchers to experiment with fishing regulations, habitat improvement methods and fish stocking efforts. With several lakes and a stretch of Hunt Creek on site, all surrounded by an expanse of state-owned land, researchers could conduct controlled experiments in one giant outdoor laboratory.

“Much of the fundamental technology we use today, like electrofishing surveys, were practiced early on at Hunt Creek,” said Todd Wills, a researcher with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries Division. Later research at the facility looked at the effects of fishing regulations and sediment input on trout populations, as well as the compatibility of trout species and the viability of different trout strains for stocking efforts. The DNR closed the facility around 2011 and now leases it to Lake Superior State University.

“Hunt Creek has a really neat history of work that has not only steered the management of coldwater trout in Michigan but across the United States,” Wills said.

The Schmallers Road timber bridge project cost approximately $350,000. Funding comes from 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. Montmorency County Road Commission provided in-kind labor. It was managed by Huron Pines, with KPM Engineering and John Henry Excavating handling the engineering and construction, respectively.

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