A shared passion and a spirit of collaboration make for meaningful stream, wetland and fish habitat restoration projects.

In my first month of work at HRWC, over 12 years ago, Laura Rubin (HRWC’s former Executive Director) suggested I attend the annual Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited (AATU) conservation banquet. There, I was greeted by numerous members who were excited to meet another HRWC staffer. This welcoming and positive relationship has continued for the past dozen years. Their board, volunteers, and members are continually supportive of HRWC and our common mission to protect and restore the Huron.

Sharing the joys of fly fishing

Fly fishing angler on the Huron River
Fly fishing angler on the Huron River

Mike Mouradian, then AATU President, was the first person I met. Mike, a gregarious, jovial, and playful sort, has helped HRWC connect with the fishing community in numerous ways. He taught fly-fishing classes for families at various parks hosted by HRWC. He’s supported youth fishing initiatives for years, including HRWC’s new summer camp program launched in 2022. Kids love to learn fly casting! As Mike says, “AATU has been working with HRWC for years, acting as the voice of anglers using the watershed resource. As one of many stakeholders in the health of the watershed, the fishing community can see firsthand the quality of the Huron River. It’s hard to separate the goals of AATU and HRWC.”

Connecting the community around Mill Creek

Mill Creek in Dexter Michigan
Mill Creek Park in Dexter, Michigan. Photo by Marc Akemann

HRWC and AATU collaborations increased notably ten years ago, primarily related to Mill Creek, which has been proven to support a trout fishery. Driven primarily by Bill Phillips, an adept “cat wrangler,” AATU successfully fostered dozens of community connections with organizations and individuals including Ducks Unlimited, Dexter Schools, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and numerous others. Indeed, Bill won HRWC’s “bridge builder” award in 2018. One to always point out others’ strengths, Bill notes, “As a former high school teacher and an administrator, I was very impressed with the ‘open and encouraging to all’ attitude of HRWC. A great attitude backed up with excellent scientific skills! HRWC is one of the most effective and ‘open to outsiders’ organizations that I have either worked with or observed!”

Soon after the Mill Creek trout project took off, Steve “Z” Zawistowski joined the group, bringing expert research and analytic skills to AATU. “Z” observes that “HRWC has been a great partner for AATU as we have worked to develop Mill Creek as a brown trout fishery. We know that what is good for the watershed is good for the fish, and what is good for the fish is good for the watershed.” “Z” is currently helping bring the next phase of leadership to AATU.

One such emerging leader is Terry Sharik, Ph.D. Terry’s initial work with AATU was a collaborative tree and shrub planting project along Mill Creek, where the old impoundment has left almost no native or woody plants—a perfect project for a retired forestry professor. Terry is also an amazing “bridge builder,” identifying ways that AATU and HRWC can collaborate with more individuals and organizations—most notably identifying Michigan Tech Research Institute as a novel partner for researching sediment transport and temperature fluctuations through in-stream and remote sensing. Terry notes, “HRWC’s long-term monitoring of the watershed and the relationships they have developed with people are invaluable as we move forward with collaborative restoration efforts.”

Casting a bright future

The collaboration looks forward to considering future stream and wetland restoration projects and specific fish habitat improvements. Many of these discussions have been facilitated by another newer AATU board member, Tania Evans, who notes, “In the last year, we have zeroed in on several exciting projects. AATU appreciates HRWC’s collaboration and knowledge of research, grants, and permits.”

It’s impossible to mention all of the amazing AATU board members and volunteers who have worked with HRWC. Some include Ken Spears, Madeline Drake, Ethan Cramer, Ray Kelley, Robert Schultz, John Zolan, Doug Gorby, David Neal, Dan Jackson and Len Lofstrom, who adds, “I was most curious to know what was living in the river. I was able to help monitor the health of the river and improve my fishing at the same time. Trout Unlimited and HRWC certainly complement each other very well.”

AATU, HRWC, and all partners mentioned are closing in on a suite of potential projects to help improve Mill Creek in the coming years. Please let us know if you’d like to be involved.

—Jason Frenzel

This blog post is also published in the Huron River Report, Summer 2023.