Dam Removal Restores West Branch Tittabawassee River

Senior Project Manager Josh Leisen uses his phone to snap a photo of a new, 30-foot aluminum culvert at the site where a private dam stood for 7 decades on the West Branch Tittabawassee River.

The West Branch Tittabawassee River is flowing freely for the first time in 70 years after Huron Pines managed the removal of a private dam from the coldwater tributary in southeastern Roscommon County this summer.

The dam was built in the 1950s to create an upstream pond and serve as a bridge to forestland on the south side of the river. The Kreckman family bought the property as a hunting camp in the 1990s. They drained the pond by removing the dam’s wooden stopboards but left the sizable concrete and steel structure in place as a bridge to access property opposite the homestead.

Even without its stopboards, the dam still slowed the river upstream, contributing to rising water temperatures and degrading habitat for trout and other river life. On the downstream side of the dam, a 2-foot vertical spillway significantly increased water flow, eroding sediment into the river and preventing the migration of trout and other fish species.

A downstream view of the concrete dam on the West Branch Tittabawassee River.

Josh Leisen is Senior Project Manager for Huron Pines. He said the landowner reached out to the organization for financial help and expertise in taking out the dam and restoring the river.

“Mr. Kreckman read about a similar dam removal we completed on the Middle Branch Cedar River in 2019 which prompted him to call us, and we agreed his project was worth pursuing,” Leisen said. “The Kreckmans are a family of anglers who understand the negative impacts of the dam and we were eager to work together for the benefit of the river.”

Read more: Reconnecting Our Waterways

Demolition and removal of the dam with heavy machinery occurred in mid July. Contractors then built concrete footers, onto which they set a 30-foot-long box culvert as a bridge to the south side of the Kreckman property. This bottomless structure is designed and installed in a way that allows the river to flow naturally through the site and preserves the native gravel streambed underneath it. The entire project took about three months to complete.

Heavy equipment being used to remove the dam in July 2022.

“We knew the dam was not doing any good for the river and I wasn’t willing to put it off onto the next generation.”

Todd Kreckman, landowner

Removing the dam reconnected 6.2 miles of stream habitat and restored the natural movement of nutrients and fish through the river system, including brook, brown and rainbow trout.

“The upper part of the Tittabawassee River Watershed has several high quality, coldwater trout streams that are in really good condition, and the West Branch is one of the best in the bunch,” Leisen said. “By removing the dam voluntarily, the Kreckmans have helped make this river even better.”

The new, 30-foot culvert at the site of the former dam allows the natural movement of water, fish and other river life.

“I’ve always thought of ourselves as caretakers of the river,” said landowner Todd Kreckman. “We knew the dam was not doing any good for the river and I wasn’t willing to put it off onto the next generation. What I didn’t expect was the amount of sudden and positive change — we’re seeing rainbow trout now that we haven’t seen in many years and the river is absolutely crystal clear.”

Total project cost was approximately $350,000.

This project was supported by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Fish Habitat Grant Program, a contribution from the landowner, Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, the Saginaw Bay Watershed Restoration Fund of the Bay Area Community Foundation, and Walters Family Foundation. Engineering was provided by Huron Engineering and Surveying, Inc. Contracting was by Jordan Intercoastal, LLC.

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