Cornwall Dam was built in 1966 to create the 295-acre Cornwall Creek Flooding in the heart of the Pigeon River Country State Forest, Cheboygan County. The earthen dam is owned and maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. A 2019 dam safety inspection rated it in poor condition and recommended immediate action. Huron Pines has been pursuing funding to renovate the dam but has exhausted all existing options. A Jan 18 press release from the Michigan DNR announced its intentions to draw down the flooding in 2023 and to seek grant funding to remove the dam. This is our response.
Aquatic barriers, including dams and poorly functioning culverts, obstruct fish passage, disrupt aquatic habitat for fish and other river life, and contribute to warming water which is detrimental to coldwater species like trout. In nearly all cases, Huron Pines supports barrier removal, and we have completed over 120 projects since 2007 to improve aquatic connectivity on Northern Michigan streams.
As a conservation organization, we also recognize the recreational benefits Cornwall Creek Flooding provides as a popular destination for fishing, camping, hiking, hunting and horseback riding. The flooding is unique in that it is a non-motorized, undeveloped waterbody in a remote area of Northern Michigan, contributing substantial economic and social value to the surrounding community. It is a place where kids learn to fish, generational memories are made and people connect to nature in a positive way. Those who have spent time at Cornwall Flooding know it is a special place, and we agree.
In this instance, Huron Pines is an advocate for the renovation of Cornwall Dam and supports investments by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the State of Michigan to restore the dam and keep the flooding.
From an ecological standpoint, Cornwall Creek — which is impounded by Cornwall Dam — is a warm-water habitat upstream of the impoundment. By our assessment, the ecological impacts of the flooding and dam are less significant than they would be were Cornwall Creek a cold-water system. Cold groundwater input from springs downstream of Cornwall Dam curb the flooding’s warming effects by the time Cornwall Creek reaches the Pigeon River.
Additionally, Cornwall Creek Flooding provides habitat for common loons, bald eagles, osprey, and a multitude of other wildlife which reside in the Pigeon River Country State Forest.
However, we also recognize the potential risks to human safety, infrastructure and downstream habitat, including the Pigeon River, associated with the current condition of Cornwall Dam. Leaving failing infrastructure on the landscape, without either renovating the dam or drawing down the impoundment, is not an option. Owning and maintaining a dam carries inherent risks and ongoing costs. The ultimate decision of what to do with the dam rests with the owner, Michigan DNR, and must also comply with Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Dam Safety requirements.
Over the years, Huron Pines has pursued several avenues for funding to renovate Cornwall Dam. A grant was awarded by the DNR Fisheries Division to Huron Pines in 2019, which paid for design and engineering services for a renovation project and necessary permits were obtained. Once the project was bid for construction, however, funding fell well short of the amount needed to address safety concerns posed by the dam while retaining the flooding.
As of January 2023, all funding avenues available to Huron Pines for the renovation of Cornwall Dam have been exhausted. Other opportunities may exist but are not accessible by our organization.
We understand the current condition of the dam has prompted the Michigan EGLE to require a drawdown of Cornwall Creek Flooding to minimize risks were the dam to fail. Without funding, the DNR has no choice but to lower the water level of Cornwall Creek Flooding in 2023. If funding were to be made available, it will be the decision of the DNR — as the owner responsible for operating and maintaining the structure — what the next steps will be.
We believe that preserving this high quality recreational asset and unique experience for the people of Michigan is worthwhile, and that the State of Michigan should allocate funding to rehabilitate Cornwall Dam. If the project were fully funded and supported by Michigan DNR and Michigan EGLE, Huron Pines is prepared to manage the process of renovation to maintain the flooding and address the safety concerns. At present, these factors are outside of our control and given the lack of renovation funds we should be prepared to see a drawdown in 2023, as required by Michigan EGLE.
— Huron Pines