Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011, 7:45 AM By Howard Meyerson | The Grand Rapids Press Follow 1 ShareEmailPrint ROCKFORD — In the middle of a winter snowstorm, trout do not come readily to mind, but there I was recently, along with others, sipping refreshments at Wolverine Worldwide Headquarters, thinking of Rogue River trout and steelhead. It was bitterly cold outside. The roads were terrible. Traffic had backed up for miles on the expressway. Yet, more than 100 people had made the drive. The night was orchestrated by Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited, the local chapter of TU. The subject was Trout Unlimited’s Home River project and its future.
You may recall the national cold-water conservation group elected the Rogue to be one of its Home River projects. That designation resulted in a full-time biologist being hired to assess the river and its banks, to develop plans for future restoration, and to work with local communities on ways to improve its water quality. The Schrems chapter raised $315,000 to make it happen. That’s a bundle, but chapter president JR Hartman told the group that evening having a Home River office in other states often leverages real money for the work ahead. “I anticipate that we will see $1.5 to $2 million,” Hartman told an appreciative, nodding audience during his opening remarks. That money, by the way, is money the Michigan Department of Natural Resources doesn’t have — and time the Department of Natural Resources staff do not have to spend on the river. “People recognize that we have a great cold-water resource here,” said Nichol De Mol, the Home River project coordinator for the Rogue.
The Schrems money went to hire her and open an office. Outside the wind was blowing snow. The river, not far away, was devoid of wader-clad anglers. No fishermen stood around talking trout. The snow lay in thick mats covering the grass and fields and concrete adjacent to the stream. It filled the air creating an idyllic scene. Inside, meanwhile, most had finished nibbling on pasta or salad or dessert. The cash bars were open, but most sat in quiet attendance. Important trout location De Mol explained the Rogue River was chosen because it is near the second-largest city in Michigan.
It has an important trout fishery below the Rockford Dam and important cold-water tributaries above the dam, which are important for sustaining trout. “It is a natural river, too,” De Mol said, speaking of the Rogue’s designation as a state Country-Scenic River under its Natural Rivers Program. De Mol rattled off statistics about the river: It drains 262 square miles of watershed. More than three quarters runs through Kent County, with another 20 percent through Newaygo County. It was once forested land, but not nearly as much today. She said people have cut down the trees and lawns run to its banks. The runoff from parking lots, driveways and roads has increased dramatically. That run-off carries traces of oil, road salts and other residues left on the concrete; sediment too, courtesy of adjacent farmlands and developments where more needs to be done to protect water quality.
“More nutrients and other things now wash into the river,” De Mol said. That, in turn, results in warmer, more turbid waters that challenge trout survival. “We’re working with Rockford and Cedar Springs on how to plan for growth,” De Mol said. “We plan to assess the opportunities for restoration.” Tributaries such as Blakeslee Creek and Cedar Creek and the old Rice Lake area all were mentioned. The Rice Lake bed in Newaygo County is where the headwaters begin, former ditches that once were straightened to help drain the area. Any work there would help the waters below. “Wetlands are our sponges on the landscape,” De Mol said. They filter out the unwanted. Not a new idea, but it came across fresh in the context of doing something to improve the Rogue River. Tom Mundt was next to speak, the former Wolverine Worldwide executive and now a board member for Schrems TU. He spoke of Wolverine’s progress deconstructing its former tannery and efforts under way to determine how to deal with Rum Creek, a small tributary that flowed under the building “and was encased in concrete pretty much for the last 100 years.” Then, Mundt introduced Kevin Feenstra, a well-known fishing guide on the Muskegon River. Feenstra spoke of growing up in Grandville, his roots fishing Buck Creek and eventually the Rogue, and of his early fascination fishing there. For all the good news that evening, it was Feenstra’s story that prompted me to consider just how many enjoy the river and its trout fishery, how I caught my first trout on a fly there, and how many families introduce their children to fishing trout there. It reinforced what a valuable and rich resource it is for the region and the potentials that exist once De Mol’s work goes forward. That, in turn, brought images to mind of clear running waters and bigger trout, something good to think about on the cold and snowy drive back home. E-mail Howard Meyerson: email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/HMeyerson