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Bear Creek Stewardship Plan - Demographics of the Watershed

Population within the watershed has increased dramatically since 1950. Between 1980 and 1990, for example, Cannon Township experienced the largest growth of any political unit in the county, with an increase from approximately 5,000 to nearly 8,000 in the decade, a 59.1% increase. Other townships in the watershed also experienced marked population growth in the period, including Plainfield (21%), Ada (17.1%), and Grattan (11.7%). During the same period that these townships were growing rapidly, Kent County as a whole recorded a modest 12.6% increase and the state of Michigan experienced a meager .3% growth rate.

It is estimated that the watershed area itself has a population of approximately 6,000 in 1993, including the portions in Grattan, Ada, Vergennes and Plainfield Townships.

A report prepared some twenty years ago (Prien & Newhof, 1970) for Cannon Township had anticipated this growth (though not its full extent) as well as its effect on the future water quality of the area. The report read, in part:

"Cannon Township is experiencing a healthy growth rate as development around Grand Rapids moves northerly. People are building in the attractive natural topography of the Township and especially around the lakes" (p.2).

"The beautiful rolling topography lends itself to development but soil conditions preclude further development without an adequate sewage disposal system. Some of the area is heavy soil where septic tanks will not properly function" (p.1).

Despite these early water quality concerns and professional cautions, a substantial amount of residential development has occurred in all townships of the watershed, particularly since 1980. In Cannon Township, for example, an average of 108 new homes were built each year between 1982 and 1990 (Cannon Township Comprehensive Plan, 1993, 2-1). The rate of construction has not lagged in the two and a half years since.

One consequence of development with an impact on water resources has been a change in the average size of land holdings. In 1930, the average parcel size in Cannon Township was more than 80 acres; by 1966, most of the large tracts had been divided and many parcels smaller than 40 acres appeared. In the 1990's, large parcels in excess of 40 acres are rare and smaller parcels of 10 acres or less predominate (See Figure 5 ).

The individuals who own these lands represent an overwhelmingly homogeneous group: 98% are non-Hispanic Caucasians, chiefly of English and German descent. Furthermore, most households are comprised of married-couple families with children. The percentage of home ownership is generally high -- 91% in Cannon Township, for example -- and the median value of owner-occupied housing is also well above the state and county average ($97,600 in Cannon Township).

Individuals in the watershed who do not work on their own agricultural lands generally commute to the Grand Rapids metropolitan area (including nearby Rockford) for employment.

Page last modified January 19, 2011