The Portage creekshed and the smaller Livermore sub-creekshed
The Portage creekshed and the smaller Livermore sub-creekshed

Portage Creek, once one of Robert Cavelier de la Salle’s main routes to Chicago, links to Portage Creek of the Grand River with an overland carry of one mile. Also called Hell Creek by residents, it is easily one of the region’s prettiest and healthiest tributaries. The Portage Creek watershed includes major lakes such as North Lake, Halfmoon Lake, and Portage Lake. Much of these lakefront was divided into very small parcels in the early 1900s for seasonal cottages. However, over the past several decades, much of this housing has been converted to year-round use taking a toll on the lakes of the area with the impacts of septic systems, increased impervious surfaces, and a loss of riparian vegetation. Many of these septic systems have been converted into sewer systems, which has greatly increased the water quality in recent years.

Portage Creek flows through Ingham, Jackson, Livingston, and Washtenaw Counties; Dexter, Lyndon, Putnam, Stockbridge, Unadilla, and Waterloo Townships; and the Village of Stockbridge. It is composed of 115 miles of branching stream channels, and it drains 79 square miles of land. Over its length, the creek’s elevation drops 116 feet. The average slope is 11 feet per mile, which is slightly less steep than most of the other tributaries of the Huron River. There are 29 lakes (open water > 5 acres) and 62 ponds (open water < 5 acres) in the Portage Creek watershed.

The Portage Creek watershed is geologically unique due to glacial activity. Water retention in the wetlands, floodplains and lakes, as well as fast water drainage in the upland areas creates a mosaic of different habitats. The varied glacial terrain allows for a variety of ecological communities and thus a large diversity of plants and animals within the region including a wide array of rare species.

Since Portage Creek is so healthy, HRWC and the Nature Conservancy have made protecting it a high priority. We constantly monitor it for looming threats, and we work with local governments and property owners to preserve the natural areas that keep it clean. Learn more about Portage Creek


Portage Creek

is the second largest tributary to the Huron River (only Mill Creek to the immediate south is larger). 10% of the Huron River watershed is located in Portage. The creek flows for 25 miles and connects parts of four counties and six townships and villages before emptying into Little Portage Lake and Portage Lake.
Maps of  the Portage Creek watershed

Aquatic Life

Nearly 50 species of freshwater fish make their home in Portage Creek or its lakes, including some species that are listed as threatened or endangered. (Source: MDNR Fisheries Division) Of the 38 named lakes in the watershed, fewer than five are monitored for water quality. Several freshwater mussels continue to find suitable habitat in the creek, including the snuffbox mussel.

Aquatic insects are studied at two locations on the creek by HRWC’s Adopt-A-Stream program. At Unadilla Road, insect diversity of low, the presence of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies is low, and no species sensitive to pollution have been found. At Dexter-Townhall Road, significant declines in the insect and sensitive family diversity have been detected over the past five years, and recently declines in the presence of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies have been detected, as well.  Two new locations will be monitored in 2011: Williamsville Road and Main Street in Stockbridge.

Land Use

Extensive state-owned lands are located within the watershed, such as the Pinckney and Waterloo State Recreation Areas, the Gregory State Game Area, and the Lakelands State Trail. These areas provide nearly 19,000 acres of public land for recreation and natural resource protection in the watershed and account for much of the lakes, wetlands, woodlands that cover one-third of the watershed. As of 2000, nearly half of the land in the watershed was engaged in active farming operations, with most activity concentrated in the northern and western parts. One-tenth of the land is covered with grass or pasture, and may be the area most likely to be developed next. The remaining land has been converted from natural cover to residential, commercial, or industrial uses. (Source: SEMCOG)

Population Growth

In recent decades, the land draining to Portage Creek and its lakes has experienced increasing development pressures from a growing economy and urban sprawl. In fact, while much of Michigan has stagnated during the past eight years, the communities in the study area continue to grow owing to its desirable location and natural attributes. The U.S. Census in 2000 counted 23,361 individuals living in the communities that comprise Portage Creek watershed. Total population of the watershed communities averaged an 8% increase from 2000 to 2006, ranging from 0.8% in Stockbridge Township to 12.6% in the Village of Pinckney.

Stream Flow

Studies of seasonal flow patterns on the Huron River reveal that Portage Creek is one of the two most unstable tributaries in the watershed. Portage Creek experiences the most frequent high flows (along with Mill Creek), attributed to the operation of lake-level control structures, and the most frequent low flows. Four dams and water level control structures are located on Portage Creek; Unadilla Wildlife Flooding, Unadilla Mill Dam, HiLand Lake dam, and Crooked Lake dam influence flow patterns and creek shape. Most of the lower reach has been channelized, and habitat is predominantly runs with sand and gravel substrate. The tributaries located in the northern and western portions of the watershed have been channelized with many being designated drains. (Source: MDNR Fisheries Division)