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Bear Creek Stewardship Plan - Goals and Desired Uses of the Bear Creek Watershed

As the foregoing description of the land and water resources has made clear, the Bear Creek Watershed is a geophysical resource whose best use is probably not for residential, commercial or even agricultural purposes. On the other hand, its steep slope, soil types, abundance of streams, springs, wetlands and lakes, and varieties of native plants and animals underscore its value as recreational land, wildlife habitat and forestry preserves.


Because of the proximity of the watershed to the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, the watershed area is becoming more and more popular as a site for homes and small businesses. Ironically, many of the features which make the watershed unsuitable for development are the very features which attract homeowners to these properties - including steep slopes, stream and lake system proximity, wetlands, and the unmistakable ambiance of "country living", associated with many open vistas and wildlife species diversity.

In 1991, the amount of land developed for residential or commercial use comprised less than 10 percent, or fewer than 2,000 acres, of the total watershed area. In the two years since, several additional residential developments have been completed or are under construction, and some commercial development has occurred as well. For the most part, this development involves the transformation of agricultural land into residential or commercial building sites. Despite the limitations posed by the environmental features of the watershed it is unrealistic to set a goal of totally terminating or significantly reversing this suburban/urban development.

Major goals of the project, therefore, are to work aggressively with the townships in which the watershed lies to: a.) HEIGHTen public awareness, b.) provide targeted public education around water quality concerns, c.) support the creation and implementation of public policies which protect watershed resources, and d.) secure financial backing from multiple sources for implementation of necessary BMPs to reduce or remove current NPS pollution related to existing residential and commercial development.

A related goal involves working with current watershed landowners to support the placement of undeveloped lands, stream corridors, forest stands and other parcels into conservation easements and trusts administered by Kent County, townships, or environmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and Natural Areas Conservancy of West Michigan (NACOWMI).


The goals for the project with respect to agricultural land use are similar to those for residential/commercial land use, however there is little thrust toward the creation of new agricultural lands in the watershed. Indeed, the trend is in the opposite direction, with the conversion of agricultural lands to residential/commercial lands readily evident. The goals with agricultural lands, therefore, are not to develop and implement strategies which focus on future development, but to develop and implement strategies which can address current practices with negative impacts on watershed quality.

In 1991, between one-fourth to one-third - or about 5,500 acres - of the watershed was devoted to agricultural production, including row crops and livestock. (Row crop acreage outnumbered livestock acreage about 2:1.) These agricultural acres have been documented as contributing significantly to the variety and severity of water quality problems, but nearly all of these contributions can be removed or reduced with the implementation of appropriate site-specific BMPs. The goals are to preserve the existing agricultural land base as an important economic, cultural, and social resource; b.) to reduce negative environmental impacts on the watershed by implementing BMPs; and, c.) to secure financial support for these efforts from a variety of sources.


The forest and recreational lands of the watershed are a major resource toward which serious attention must be directed. In 1991, nearly 55% of the area - or some 11,000 acres - were devoted to these uses. As with agricultural lands, however, these lands are at-risk from the push toward residential/ commercial development.

The major goals of this project with respect to these lands are: a.) to insure that the most environmentally sensitive acreage remains in an undeveloped state; b.) to promote the conversion of lands currently used for other purposes (such as agriculture) to this use; and, c.) to promote appropriate management and use of the lands to minimize NPS pollution.

Bear Creek Project staff and volunteers will support and participate in the development of comprehensive plans to reduce NPS in recreational areas such as golf courses, lakes and private and public off-road vehicle trails.

Page last modified January 19, 2011