Archive for the ‘Volunteer’ 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.

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.



Sunshine, bugs, and volunteers

Now that is a lot of sunshine!

Now that is a lot of sunshine! credit: Kristen Baumia

People enjoying nature!

We could not have asked for better spring weather for our 120 volunteers on April 18!  They soaked in the sun and warmth while visiting 50 different creek and river locations across the Huron River Watershed. Held twice a year, HRWC’s River Roundup is one of the most effective ways that HRWC has to understand how the water quality of the river and creeks may be changing. From the macroinvertebrates collected during this event, we are able to keep abreast of the health of our waterways throughout the watershed. You can see all the results in April 18 River Roundup Report.


Mill Creek is the largest tributary to the Huron River, draining  143 square miles of land, 68 of which are agriculture. Agricultural impacts have certainly taken their toll on Mill Creek, with some Mill Creek’s tributaries no more than straightened ditches, and the creek has phosphorus and E.Coli issues that come from fertilizers and animals. However, great things are happening in Mill Creek, including the removal of Mill Pond Dam in Dexter, stream stabilization projects, landowner education, and a renewed interest in bringing residents to the waterfront. 

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

Changes in the EPT families on Mill Creek, Shield Road. The red line shows the Mill Pond Dam removal.

As a part of the River Roundup, volunteers regularly visit 9 sites on Mill Creek (the main branch and several tributaries).  Four of these sample sites are showing significant improvements in the macroinvertebrate populations, indicating improving water quality and habitat.  These four sites are Shield Road (near the mouth), Manchester Road and Klinger Road (both in the headwaters), and Fletcher Road (on the north branch).

Shield Road in particular seems to be doing quite well with several highly diverse samples taken since the removal of the downstream dam.  The graph to the right shows the changes in the EPT (mayfly-stonefly-caddisfly) family diversity, with the red line in the middle of the graph indicating the dam removal. Samples in the early 2000′s were particularly poor with only 2 or 3 families found, and now we are regularly finding  6 or 7. Insect families that are now found which were not found previously include Baetid mayflies, Isonychia mayflies, Leptophlebia mayflies, and the Philopotamid caddisfly.

You can learn more about Mill Creek from our creekshed report.


South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

South Ore Creek has fewer insects than we would expect despite areas of great habitat. When this happens, the likely culprit is some type of chemical pollutant.

If you have read these updates before, you will recall that we have learned that several streams in Livingston County have had significant reductions in their insect populations over time.  In fact, of the 62 sites that we monitor across the Huron River Watershed, 20 are in Livingston County, and 9 of those have statistically significant reductions. In contrast, HRWC monitors 30 sites in Washtenaw County and the insects at 12 sites are statistically improving while zero are declining.  Now, this may simply be a coincidence, as it is difficult to explain why a political boundary can make such a difference in insect populations.  But the data speaks pretty clearly; among others, Davis Creek (South Lyon area) has been declining, and South Ore Creek (Brighton area) is also getting worse.  Thankfully, both of these creeks could still be considered relatively healthy (when compared to more heavily urbanized creeks like Malletts), but we have to make some extra efforts to get these creeks to reverse their negative trends.


What’s next?

You should be a creekwalker! In this unique program, you will walk up and down a stream, exploring it and looking for possible pollution sources.  Join by yourself, with friends, or with your family.  Learn more about it at http://www.hrwc.org/volunteer/creekwalker/.

Family Volunteering

River Roundup volunteers. Photo by Rick Martin

River Roundup volunteers. Photo by Rick Martin

While it may not seem like it today, HRWC’s field season, and thus many volunteer opportunities, are right around the corner. Our first volunteer training (for our Water Quality program) is on March 21. River Roundup and Bioreserve training are sure signs that spring is imminent.

As many of our volunteers and supporters know, most HRWC programs are family friendly. It’s been a delight seeing many of our youth volunteers grow into thoughtful, giving, young professionals. Numerous studies have linked volunteering to being happier and healthier. So why not get your favorite kid involved in the community, especially HRWC? For some tips, see this Points of Light blog on getting kids into volunteering. To see if your youth is a good fit for one of our programs just ask the program lead!

If you’re interested in HRWC’s volunteer programming in general, Jason would love to hear from you: jfrenzel@hrwc.org.

Stoneflies! Cute AND educational!

Stonefly Search 2015 Wrap Up

A Surprisingly Pleasant January Day
So cute! Who wouldn't want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

So cute! Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold Saturday in January looking for one of these?

You never know what a Michigan January will bring; last year HRWC was forced to cancel the Stonefly Search because of sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions.  But this year, on January 17, 125 intrepid volunteers enjoyed bright sunshine and 30 degree weather as they spread across the Huron River watershed. They were in search of stoneflies, which are only found in clean and healthy streams.  Everyone made it back safe, and not a single leaky wader was reported! Overall, it was a great success!

The results are in, and are given in this pdf report.

What We Found

1. Usually when we look at the data after an aquatic bug search, we see that some sites do better than normal, some sites do worse, but most sites stay the same. This was a strange year because while most sites stayed the same, several did worse than normal, and none did better.  Overall, the count of stonefly families was down about 10% from our last sampling event (2013). There is no clear explanation for this; weather conditions were great and the ice wasn’t any thicker than other year.  We will start to be concerned if we continue to see this happen year after year. However, there is always natural variation in the data and collecting and this year will likely not be the start of a downward trend in terms of the overall sampling.


Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

Caroline, HRWC Intern and volunteer, scours Malletts Creek in hopes of scoring a Capnid.

2. That being said, there are specific locations that have shown long-term degradation. For example, Honey Creek in Ann Arbor. The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

3. Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail is another location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

4. All this doom and gloom needs to be put in perspective, though. Remember, most of the sites we visited were as healthy as ever.  Of the 61 Adopt-a-Stream sites that HRWC uses to assess the overall water quality of the watershed, stoneflies are regularly found at 38 of them. In other words, 62% of our watershed has very high water quality and habitat. This agrees with recent analyses of other HRWC data, showing that 66% of the watershed was good to very high quality, 28% was fair to good, and 7% was highly impacted (2014 State of the Huron)

Next on the horizon!

Interested in doing more with our macroinvertebrate searches?  Think about becoming a trained leader or collector by coming to the next training on March 29.  This is an extremely important job because every team needs both a trained leader and collector, and we often do not have enough to meet the demand.  Sign up for the training!


The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!

The team gathers around the white trays to sort debris and hunt for stoneflies!




2009-Stonefly-TrainingWednesday is your last chance to sign up for the January 17 Stonefly Search !

Join a small team led by a Stonefly Hunter who goes in the river so you don’t have to. You will be amazed at the lively creatures living under the ice.

Help HRWC collect data for a long-term study of our watershed. Aquatic insects are sensitive to their surroundings and can tell us about problems in the river and its streams.

Reserve your place at www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly/ No prior experience needed.

This event lasts roughly 5 hours, is FREE and the activities are suitable for all ages, from responsible children to seniors.

News to Us

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water.  Credit: John Lloyd

Many breweries in the area rely on Huron River water. Credit: John Lloyd

In local news, listen to radio interviews with two HRWC staff  on our environmental education work and the addition of a new dock at Peninsular Park.  A new report identifies nature as a best defense against severe storms and flooding.  Also, land and water conservation is on the ballot throughout the nation and craft brewers are uniting around clean water.

Mother Nature Offers Best Defense From Floods and Storms Mother Nature is one of the best defenses against damage from large storms and flooding.  Protecting our forests and wetlands provides benefits far beyond beauty and biodiversity.  A recent National Wildlife Federation report explores the benefits of land protection as a flood control strategy. HRWC’s Bioreserve Program, Green Infrastructure initiatives and riparian buffer protections work all contribute to the watershed’s natural ability to lessen the impacts of storms in our area.

Freshwater Health: Caring for our rivers, lakes and streams and their aquatic inhabitants and surrounding communities WCBN’s It’s Hot in Here program this week includes three interviews on freshwater issues affecting the Great Lakes.  HRWC’s Volunteer and Stewardship Coordinator Jason Frenzel discusses our education programs and community engagement beginning around the 45 minute mark.

Craft brewers join the fight against natural gas pipelines Craft brewers understand the importance of clean water. After all, beer is 90% water.  Brewers in the Huron River watershed have been great partners to HRWC over the years. This article highlights a national initiative to unite craft brewers around water quality issues. This article is an interesting read and highlights one of the many less obvious benefits of clean, plentiful water.

Voters Will Decide On Billions For Land Conservation  On Election Day, voters will be deciding whether or not to support land and water conservation throughout the nation. Some of the biggest initiatives are in California, Florida and New Jersey.  Many local level initiatives to support the preservation of open space are being put in front of voters as well. In fact, Washtenaw County residents will vote on a millage renewal for county parks.  The Washtenaw County Parks system has contributed parks, preserves and trails that improve recreational opportunities, erosion and stormwater control, pollution prevention and the beauty of our watershed. You can learn more about the county parks system in The History of Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission video.

New Dock For Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park As part of the RiverUp! program, a new dock has been installed at Ypsilanti’s Peninsular Park replacing a dock that had fallen into disrepair making river access and recreation difficult. This is part of a larger initiative to encourage river and trail recreation in the Huron River watershed, particularly in five “Trail Towns” along the Huron River Water Trail including Ypsilanti.

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