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Stories of Impact

Natural Environment

Removing a Dam to Restore River Health with Huron River Watershed Council

“Our river corridors are revered for their recreation and incredible scenic beauty. Protecting them is of great value to Michiganders.

-Rebecca Esselman, Executive Director, Huron River Watershed Council

Ypsilanti, MI (November 2023)As Michiganders, we define ourselves by the Great Lakes that surround us. The beautiful inland waterways that feed our Great Lakes contribute to that identity. For more than 50 years, Huron River Watershed Council has been dedicated to the protection of the Huron River, monitoring its tributaries, lakes and groundwater, to ensure healthy and vibrant communities.

Over the years, one area of great concern for the Council has been the Peninsular Paper Dam, a high-hazard structure in poor condition. The dam no longer serves a purpose and if it were to fail, loss of life would be probable. The dam harms the ecological health of the river and inhibits fish passage. It also degrades water quality, and is a financial burden to the city of Ypsilanti. The Michigan DNR agrees, it needs to be removed. 

To support this effort, the Walters Family Foundation provided the Huron River Watershed Council a two-year grant to facilitate the dam’s deconstruction. This will help restore a section of the Huron River, remove a substantial safety and financial liability to the city of Ypsilanti, revive river recreation and renew the vitality of critical habitat.

Draft restoration plan for the removal of the Penninsular Paper Dam.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

“Insects, mussels, all of the aquatic organisms that call the river home have been isolated in these segments for the past a hundred years,” says Esselman. “Restoring the river reconnects those populations and increases the robustness of aquatic life. Bass populations, in particular, are expected to rebound and thrive.”

Paddlers will also benefit. With the dam’s removal, there will be new opportunities to experience longer stretches of free-flowing river through stunning, intact forest. “It’s a breath of fresh air,” says Esselman. “This area will evolve over time into what it was intended to be, which is a floodplain forest.”

Esselman credits the Walters Family Foundation grant as playing an important role in the advancement of the project. “It really diversified our funding mix in a way that showed our state and federal partners, the city of Ypsilanti, our lawmakers, all the key players, that we have broad support for a project like this,” says Esselman.“People like the Walters family are willing to make the investment to see the project to fruition and protect our state’s most valued resources.”

Pen Dam is considered a hazard to downstream properties, so its removal can help restore the health of the river and the people that call it home.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.