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Bear Creek Stewardship Plan - Previous Management Efforts and Assessments

The records of the Bear Creek Watershed with respect to state concern for fisheries management extends back at least to 1927, when the Department of Conservation (now the DNR) assessed the main stream channel and began stocking it with brown trout. The stream condition at the time was noted to be unpolluted, with clear water, gravel and sand bottom, swift currents, and abundant plant and animal life including watercress, shrimp, larvae, worms, and flies.

Stocking with brown trout, in numbers ranging from a high of 1,200 in 1948 to a low of 300 in 1952 and 1953 continued, and stocking of rainbow trout, in numbers ranging from 200 to 300 a year, was added in 1952. Starting in 1955, the stream was stocked once each trout pre-season and once in season with both rainbow and brown trout numbering approximately 500 in the pre-season and 200 in mid-season. In the first half of the 1960s, stocking of brown and rainbow trout continued, however fewer fish were placed in the stream each year during this time.

In 1953, 1954, 1959, 1962, and 1964 the Institute of Fisheries Research conducted creel census summaries on the creek. Over the period, the number of brook and brown trout showed moderate stability, but the numbers of rainbow trout declined markedly. In 1962, only two rainbow were caught in 49 hours of fishing in the stream. In 1964, none were caught in 54 hours of fishing. In April 1965, the stream was re-classified and stocking of all trout was discontinued.

In 1969, the Department of Conservation undertook a stream fish collection survey which found the stream to be clear, with a gravel and sand bottom, good cover and no vegetation. Natural food present included insects, crayfish, scuds and minnows.

Thereafter, in July 1972, the Department of Conservation conducted a general fish survey which reported a fair trout population, but a lack of natural reproduction in the stream. The water was clear, with a mostly fast velocity, and had no higher aquatic vegetation in evidence. Natural food was reported as excellent to poor. A few brook, brown and rainbow trout were caught, along with limited numbers of smallmouth bass, grass pickerel, suckers, chubs, sculpin, brook stickleback, brook lamprey, blacknose dace, blacksided and rainbow darters, redhorse, burbot, northern pike, pumpkin sunfish, rockbass, and black crappie. Several sites were monitored, with sand silt noted in several of these, especially in sites near the Cannonsburg Ski Area which was under development at the time.

The largest numbers of fish in the 1972 survey were found downstream from the Chauncey Road dam which had good cover composed of large rock and cement slabs, and a bottom which was 30% rock, 40% sand, 20% gravel, and 10% silt with sparse vegetation but good natural food sources including crayfish, minnows and aquatic insects.

In April 1974, the Bureau of Water Management of the DNR undertook an extensive biological survey of Bear Creek, focusing on the waters in the vicinity of Cannonsburg. The survey found that the 1973-74 Cannonsburg Road re-construction project by the Kent County Road Commission had resulted in "substantial loading of eroded sediments to Bear Creek and several tributaries" and "that erosion from the Cannonsburg Ski Area prior to the fall of 1969 had also resulted in substantial sediment loading to the creek" (Willson, 1974, Summary).

The report concluded that Bear Creek remained a high quality, high gradient coldwater trout stream. Above the sources of sediment loadings, the stream substrate was clean cobble and gravel, with no sand deposits evident. The benthic macroinvertebrate community was seen as exceptionally diverse and productive.

In 1990, District 9 DNR Fisheries Biologist E.J. Trimberger wrote to Janice Tompkins, DNR Surface Water Quality Division Analyst:

"Bear Creek is a self-sustaining brook and brown trout stream in west central Kent County. It lies in an area that until recently has remained relatively undeveloped. The urban sprawl of the last decade has put considerable pressure on this stream through development within the watershed" (Trimberger, 1990, correspondence).

Since 1990, the Bear Creek Watershed has been the focus of considerable attention from several associated research and conservation efforts. The GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute has undertaken mapping and modeling projects designed to provide the ongoing Grand River Watershed initiative with detailed information on this subwatershed. Many of the figures in this Management Plan were produced by AWRI as a part of this cooperative effort.

In addition, several projects involving such practices as in-stream sediment moving structures, fish surveys and sampling, and measures of pollutants are ongoing at the current time, funded from a variety of sources including the Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek through the Groundwater Education In Michigan (GEM) Project and Grand Rapids Foundation through the Grand River Watershed Study.

The general consensus of all of the previous studies is that Bear Creek has been and continues to have the potential to be a productive trout habitat and a clean, non-polluted water resource with significant recreational and aesthetic value. At the present time, this habitat is threatened by many forces - some of recent origin, but many of several decades duration. All research points to the need to take immediate action to preserve and protect the remaining positive features of this unique ecosystem, as well as to restore the features which have been lost over time through neglect and damaging land and water management practices.

Treatment of lakes in the watershed - particularly Bostwick and Ratigan - have also been undertaken in the past two decades as part of an ongoing effort at aquatic weed control. Results of a single study of Bostwick Lake from the 1970's related to nitrate levels showed normal levels, however, routine testing is no longer performed as part of the treatment effort. Despite this lack of testing, Bostwick Lake was treated four times in 1993 by a commercial lake management company to remove aquatic vegetation.

Page last modified January 19, 2011