Archive for the ‘General HRWC’ Category

Mystery and Adventure at Site 38

From guest blogger Karen Schaefer

(With apologies to real mystery writers everywhere)

The day began as any other for our Norton Creak Road Stream Crossing team—a 9:30 a.m. rendezvous at Dunkin’ Donuts to plot the day’s strategy. Sitting at our usual table, Larry unfurled The Map, revealing twelve sites still unexplored. Sites 37 and 38 lay in a residential area. Typically, this means easy parking followed by a fairly straightforward study. A tempting target, perfect for three of us!

Little did we know, Site 38 had other plans.

Our drive to the site was uneventful. We found the cross streets within minutes of leaving our rendezvous location. Jumping out of the car, Ryan’s sharp eyes scouted for a culvert. He quickly identified a cement structure surrounded by trees and brush, well below road grade. So this was the much sought-after Site 38! We donned our sturdiest waders to tackle the 6-foot culvert (and to avoid the clearly visible poison ivy).

Ryan and Karen disappeared into the culvert. Amid the piles of cobble in the creek bed, they quickly determined this was Site 38’s outlet. Larry went on a search for the other end. Surely, a 6-foot cement pipe would be easy to find!

Alas, no. Foiling Larry’s best “Lewis and Clark” maneuvers, Site 38’s inlet remained shrouded in mystery.

Larry returned with a proposal to the team: Were we up for risking an in-culvert search to solve the mystery of the missing inlet? The response was unanimous.

Larry broke out the “really serious gear”: hard hats for everyone, and a light. Larry and Ryan grabbed the trusty multi-purpose poles (aka specially modified 8-foot tomato stakes). Karen held onto the data sheet and her phone (because every adventure needs pictures). She added the tape measure at the last minute; you never know what might need measuring!

Bravely, we entered the gaping mouth of the culvert outlet.

We were quickly outnumbered—and surrounded on all sides—by very large, unhappy spiders! Larry led the way, fending them off right and left. The trusty pole even worked its magic by clearing the webs. Still, despite our best efforts, some spiders managed to hitch a ride and enjoyed the trek alongside of (and on top of) us.

We made our way carefully, uncertain of what lay beyond. We were shrouded in complete darkness. Zero cell phone reception. Only the occasional drain cover provided a tiny glimpse of daylight.

The depth and muckiness of the substrate varied, fortunately never deeper than our calves. Ryan attempted to open a drain cover to get our position and determine whether escape (if necessary) would be possible; it was locked tight.

Onward we trudged. For hours, it seemed. Around a slight curve. Then two bends, each approximately 45 degrees. At one point, Karen asked Larry if he had checked the weather forecast for any flash floods. Larry assured us that he had, indeed; the forecast was perfect.

Suddenly, after what was certainly hours, substantial daylight appeared in the distance. Eureka!

Our relief at seeing “light at the end of the tunnel” quickly turned to dismay…as a trash rack covering the inlet came into view. Yes, we had found the inlet! Only to be thwarted by a grate covering the entire inlet. Except….

At the bottom was a very small opening. Narrow, with metal grate spikes projecting both top and bottom. Ryan examined it and commented he just might be able to get through. Suddenly, hope! We might discover the location of the hidden inlet after all! If only Ryan could manage to escape…

Sloooowly, carefully, Ryan slid himself over the grate….and out to safety! Well, except that he popped out into the backyard of a private residence. Karen gave Ryan her phone, knowing he’d be able to call for help should the situation turn dire.

Using his backpacking orienteering skills (and making his way carefully along property lines), Ryan located the street on which the adventure had begun. He set out on the long journey back.

Trapped inside the culvert, with no hope of escaping through the inlet, Larry and Karen determined the only way out was the same as the way in…back through spiders, webs, muck, and darkness. Realizing this was an opportunity to assess the actual culvert length (albeit from the inside rather than out), they began measuring with the tape, stepping through in increments. Holding the tape’s end, Larry walked 75 feet. Then Karen reeled in in the tape while walking toward him. They repeated this…75 feet, 30 feet….

Suddenly, Larry proposed measuring a length of culvert pipe and counting the sections. Brilliant! and much quicker.

Eventually, many 8-foot culvert sections later, Larry and Karen emerged from the darkness. They were greeted by Ryan at the culvert outlet. He had found his way back from the mysterious inlet down the street—previously hidden, but no longer a secret!

A quick nose count revealed the only casualty of the day: one trusty, multi-purpose pole (aka, the pink tomato stake). It will be greatly missed.

Success was enjoyed by all as we filled in key sections of the data form: inlet data with pics, actual culvert length (928 feet!), and even a somewhat representative site drawing. The thrill of completing the NCRSC data sheet was more than ample reward to the team who bravely faced the risks at mysterious Site 38.

Using road stream crossing surveys to understand creek health

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Road Stream Crossing team getting into it!

Advanced volunteer Larry Sheer led our pilot Road Stream Crossing this year. This project is helping us in numerous ways: developing our Norton Creek Management Plan, expanding our data collection options, expanding our volunteer opportunities, and creating more leadership in our organization. Kudos to Larry!

See Larry’s article on the Road Stream Crossing program, published as part of his participation in MSUE’s Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute.

Autumn Roundup: October 3

Find insects, crayfish and other small river creatures as a part of the River Roundup!

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Kids and adults welcome! Photo by Rick Martin

Join a small team with your friends and family for a unique activity and (hopefully) some time in gorgeous spring weather! Collect a sample of the bugs and other creatures that live in our streams.  Like canaries in a coal mine, these creatures indicate the health of our creeks and rivers.  In healthy places, the amount of life  in these fresh water systems is amazing!

All volunteers first meet in Ann Arbor, and then trained volunteer leaders take you to two stream sites, where you help them search through stones, leaves, and sediment.  Only trained volunteers have to go in the water.  Dress to be in the field for a couple hours.   Please register.

Children are welcome to attend with an adult.

WHERE: Meet at the HRWC office in Ann Arbor.  Then car pool to two streams in Livingston, Oakland, Wayne and/or Washtenaw Counties.

WHEN: Two times: October 3, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 3:30 PM, or 10:30 AM to 5 PM

DEADLINE: Registration closes on September 30, 2015.

NEXT STEPS: Fill out the registration page for the time and general area that you desire to work in.

1. 9 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

2. 9 AM. Belleville and Flat Rock

3. 9 AM. Western Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

4. 9 AM. Oakland County

5. 10:30 AM. Washtenaw and Livingston Counties

MORE INFO: Please email Jason at jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

PHOTOS and STORY: Get a sense of what this event is like from a HRWC volunteer here.

Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 2

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part two of a short series on migrating animals. This topic: bats!

Michigan Bats

Michigan is home to nine bat species.  Some of these bats are year long residents, while others have to head south for warmer climates in the fall and winter.  Bats in Michigan are solely insect eaters, and as such, during the colder months of the year when insects are not outside, bats must either hibernate or head south to survive.

The Big Brown Bat is the most common bat species in southeast Michigan.  This bat typically does not migrate, but instead hibernates in the winter in houses and caves. They may move from a summer roost to a winter home, but the move is usually less than 30 miles as they are just searching for a suitable hibernation location. This usually happens in mid-September and is triggered by cold nights and low insect activity.  They prefer attics that are around 35-40 degrees. So, if you hear a scratching above your head in the middle of winter, you may very well be hearing Big Brown Bats re-positioning themselves during their hibernation slumber.  Hibernating bats can survive low temperatures with reduced heartbeats, respiration, and body heat. They will reemerge from your attic in spring when the weather warms up enough for the insects to come out again.


The Big Brown Bat. credit: Indiana DNR

The Little Brown Bat is also a common bat in Michigan, but they are more numerous in the northern parts of the State. This bat will migrate longer distances than the Big Brown Bat as their preferred overwintering sites are in caves to Michigan’s south like the plentiful limestone caves of Kentucky and Tennessee.  The Indiana Bat is similar in that it migrates a moderate distance, except that it prefers the caves in southern Indiana as its migratory location. Indiana Bats are an endangered species; they hibernate in huge numbers but only in a small number of caves, which makes them very vulnerable to any habitat disturbances in these locations.


The Federally listed endangered Indiana Bat. credit: USFWS

The Eastern Red Bat, the Hoary Bat, the Silver Haired Bat, and the Northern Long-eared Bat prefer to roost in trees and not in houses or caves. As such, they must migrate a substantial distance to reach a climate warm enough to survive the outdoors in the winter. Their exact destinations are generally unknown as these species tend to be solitary creatures rather than communal, which makes finding them harder. However, they are known to be found in Texas, Florida, and northern Mexico during the winter months.


The Eastern Red Bat (shown here), and several other bat species prefer to roost and hibernate in trees rather than caves and attics. credit: Chris Harshaw

Many bats species are facing an uncertain future thanks to a disease spreading in caves while the bats hibernate.  The White nose syndrome was first reported in 2007 and is caused by a fungus that colonizes the bats skin and eventually kills them.  The species of bats that hibernate in caves in huge numbers are most at risk (like the Indiana Bat).  As of 2014, the fungus has been spread throughout 25 States and is found in five Canadian provinces.  Thankfully awareness of the disease has also spread.  A consortium of partners including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, and the Nature Conservancy are intensively studying and managing the problem.  Certain caves have been closed to human excess entirely, and in others (such as at Mammoth Caves National Park), visitors are required  to disinfect their clothing and shoes after leaving the caves.

Birds, Bats, Butterflies, and Dragonflies: Part 1

What is something that birds, bats, butterflies, and dragonflies all have in common?

Well, yes, they do fly.  But something that doesn’t occur to the typical person not well-versed in these animal types is that all of these creatures migrate.  Now that summer is ending, days are getting shorter, and the air is just a bit cooler out there, we can expect to see these animals on the move soon.

This blog is part one of a short series on migrating animals. First topic: birds!

Migrating Birds

In southeast Michigan, August marks the beginning of the migration season and migrations continue throughout the fall. Summer residents leaving our area soon will be the Green Herons, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers, flycatchers, Chimney Swifts, and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (along with many others).

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird credit: Flickr user Senapa

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird credit: Flickr user Senapa

Obviously not every bird species leaves for warmer weather.  Mourning Doves,  Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and the Tufted Titmouse (along many others) are found in southeast Michigan year round. Great Blue Herons stay as long as there is open water.

The Great Blue Heron in flight. credit: John Lloyd

The Great Blue Heron in flight. credit: John Lloyd

For other species, Michigan is a warm winter destination, as long as they can find open water. Without open water, they keep on heading south.  Several water fowl species like the Ring-necked Duck, Common Merganser, and the Common Goldeneye are found in Michigan during the fall, winter, and spring but migrate north in the summer. The Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow also fit in this category.

The Common Goldeneye. Credit: USFWS

The Common Goldeneye. Credit: USFWS

And finally, other species only use Michigan as a stop along their migration path. Warblers in particular are known for this; examples include the Cape May Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the Canada Warbler, and the Palm Warbler.

The Cape May Warbler. credit: USFWS

The Cape May Warbler. credit: USFWS

Ebird.org is a great website for tracking what bird species come and go throughout many areas of the world. To find out more about a specific species mentioned in this post, see allaboutbirds.org.

For tips on identifying birds, where to look for birds in the watershed, how to make bird migration easier and some great local resources, see Bird Migration, Finding feathered friends in the watershed, Huron River Report, Spring 2014.


Osprey Return to the Huron

Enjoy the most recent video produced by the Huron River Watershed Council that displays the benefits of a unique partnership!

“Osprey Return to the Huron” details the Huron River Watershed Council’s efforts to increase osprey populations in Southeast Michigan by installing two nesting platforms along the Huron River. The video features the Osprey history in Michigan, how diverse groups came together to support this project, footage from the actual construction, and a successful Osprey family on the river.

Early in the 20th century, osprey – a fish-eating bird of prey – lived throughout Michigan. The osprey population was depleted during the mid-20th Century due to overuse of harmful pesticides. Over the last 30 years, organizations have worked to re-establish the osprey population in Michigan. The number has risen from 81 pairs in 1975 to 166 by 1988, and has been on the rise ever since.

The Huron River Watershed Council worked in concert with ITC Holdings Corp, the nation’s largest independent electricity transmission company, Osprey Watch, the Audubon Society, and the City of Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Department.

Thanks to Jennifer Poteat, Mike Staebler, and Jon and Kathy Bowdler for their support.

Hungry for more? You’re in luck! HRWC has produced three other RiverUp! videos featuring stunning aerial and underwater footage of the river, transformation of Dexter’s waterfront, and fly fishing with local expert Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti. You can view them all on HRWC’s Youtube Channel here.

The Big Ballooning Adventure

“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” – Winnie The Pooh

Bit of a nice view, yes? Kent Lake from our balloon, with a companion balloon nicely providing the "money shot."

Bit of a nice view, yes? Kent Lake from our balloon, with a companion balloon nicely providing the “money shot.”

Pooh Bear, he knows. My husband and I were grinning for two hours, from beginning to end of our first hot air balloon ride. And really, we still grinning.

A bucket list item for both of us, this trip also coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary. And although we did not have any inflated expectations (come on, it had to be said!), what few preconceived notions we had were pretty much…burst.

Ha, sorry.

OK, not really.

I thought I would need a jacket. It’s cooler at higher altitudes, right? Didn’t think about the propane burner, and the very small space shared with two large men.

We both thought the ride would be bumpier, but there’s more turbulence on your average domestic airline flight than we experienced on this ride. Heck, my drive into work is rougher.

We also both envisioned a large landing area – you know, BIG, like a field, or open park space. We landed in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision. Much the delight of the residents – and the 6 kids who got a short tethered ride as a result.

Pilot Scott Lorenz filling the balloon

Pilot Scott Lorenz filling the balloon

Our pilot was Scott Lorenz of Westwind Balloon Company, which typically takes off near Kensington Metropark and Island State Recreation Area near Milford, MI. We met him at a park-and-ride lot, along with three other balloon companies. After sending up two trial balloons to test the wind direction – both of which went in opposite directions, leading all the pilots to shrug and say “OK, whatever” – we drove over to Island State Rec, which has thoughtfully provided a possibly-unofficial balloon “docking” area for just this activity.

After helping lay out and inflate the balloon with a huge fan, we climbed in the basket, and with a few shot of the burner – up, up and away we went (yes, in a beautiful balloon, just like the song, you old geezers you).

Kent Lake view

Kent Lake view

Wow. We could see the Detroit skyline, that’s how clear it was…and the view of the Huron River and Kent Lake was amazing. My photos don’t remotely capture the real thing. Picturesque also seems like an inadequate word for the view of our companion balloons, splashes of color against a gorgeous backdrop of Island Lake Rec Area and Kensington Metropark, the Huron glistening below them.

We flew for about 45 minutes in a remote kind of quiet that was interrupted only by the bursts from the propane burner to keep us aloft at about 500-1000 feet, and occasional conversation on what we were seeing.

View from the basket, as the burner sends a shot of hot air into the balloon

View from the basket, as the burner sends a shot of hot air into the balloon

Scott started scanning for a landing spot and decided – much to our surprise – on a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision. His crew captain, Gary, had already spotted us and was waiting for specifics on where we were going to end up.  By the time we touched down, several dads and assorted kids had already gathered, and Scott piled the kids into the basket for a short tethered lift.

After deflating and packing up the balloon, it was time for the post-ballooning champagne – a tradition started with the earliest French ballooning flights. Upon seeing the smoke-belching balloons landing in their fields, residents were inclined to get out the pitchforks and stab the “demons” into submission. The French being…well, French…the problem was solved by offering champagne upon landing.

Watching the balloon gracefully defalte

Watching the balloon gracefully defalte


Champagne is almost always a good idea, isn’t it? And a perfect ending to a ballooning adventure.





Mill Creek: the many benefits of field work

AATU members opening Mill Creek

AATU members opening Mill Creek

HRWC’s woody debris maintenance program, piloted in 2014, has expanded its staffing and impact. As the spring (and early summer) high waters recede, Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited (AATU) members have been working in conjunction with HRWC to keep Mill Creek open for fishing and paddling. As of last week Mill Creek is now free of impediments from the Sloan Preserve, through Dexter, to the Huron River. Note, Mill Creek from Dexter down to the Huron can be a leisurely paddle, while upstream is sometimes technical due to rock outcroppings and narrow passage.

Illicit Construction on Mill Creek

Illicit Construction on Mill Creek

Field work always offers multiple benefits. There’s the obvious work – clearing the stream or collecting water quality data. Another reason for field work is to offer citizens the opportunity to experience nature or gain some responsibility over our shared resources. Lastly, HRWC volunteers often discover amazing things. Sometimes a heron, baled eagle, turtle, or clam. Sometimes an egregious violation of local and state law. AATU volunteers came across a sea wall being installed on Mill Creek, with nearly zero protections to the creek, and no township, county, or state permits. With a quick call to HRWC’s office and a little detective work by staff, this work site was stopped within 18 hours. County and state officials will be working with the land owner and construction company to remediate the damage that has been done to this lovely riparian area.

As the summer draws to an end, make sure you get out and enjoy the river and its creeks. And while you’re there, keep your eyes open – you’ll never know what you’ll discover!

Conservation Stewards Leadership Training

indian springsLooking for a way to expand your knowledge about ecosystems, invasives, and the history of conservation in Michigan?

The Michigan Conservation Stewards program has been brought back to Washtenaw County by a collaboration of HRWC and peer organizations. We hope you, as a supporter of the Huron, will take the opportunity to strengthen your knowledge and thus ability to advocate for our natural resources. This 6-week course covers all the basics of conservation, introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.


Click here for details and to register.



Building Bipartisan Support for the River in Lansing

Visit me at the office and you’ll find the Citizen’s Guide to State Government for the 98th Legislature within arm’s reach on my desk. During HRWC’s 50th year, we’re making it a priority to establish and deepen relationships with our elected officials through one-on-one meetings. Watershed communities are represented by no fewer than 10 representatives and four senators in Lansing whose votes and decisions can impact the watershed.

What do we hope to get out of these conversations? We are sharing current information on water issues relevant to each district as well as strategic opportunities to protect and enhance the resource for a diverse mix of uses (municipal, recreation, business, etc.). The conversations also are vehicles for developing more regular communications between the elected officials and HRWC.

Simply put: We want the needs and concerns for the river and its watershed communities to be heard.

HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and I are wrapping up several months of traveling the watershed – and sometimes beyond – to meet with the following state elected officials (see the maps of Senate and House districts overlaid on the watershed boundary):


Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan House Legislative Districts (2010)

Gretchen Driskell (District 52)
Jeff Irwin (District 53)
Klint Kesto (District 39)
Bill LaVoy (District 17)
Kristy Pagan (District 21)
Jim Runestad (District 44)
David Rutledge (District 54)
Pat Somerville (District 23)
Lana Theis (District 42)
Adam Zemke (District 55)


Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)

Michigan Senate Legislative Districts (2010)



Hoon-Yung Hopgood (District 6)
Joe Hune (District 22)
Mike Kowall (District 15)
Rebekah Warren (District 18)






The conversations were productive and friendly, and most of the officials were very responsive to our requests for meetings. Next steps entail additional information sharing on current projects, and planning a guided legislative canoe and kayak trip on the river to highlight progress and challenges. The frequency of follow-up meetings hasn’t been determined, but we can be certain that term limits will necessitate on-going conversations as new public servants represent the watershed.

The state-level meetings build on a long tradition of engagement from local and county public officials and representatives. In fact, HRWC was formed by the Michigan Legislature in 1965 and the Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from member governments. HRWC is a nonpartisan research and education organization that protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.

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