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Michigan Dams Removed to Restore Waterways

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources-owned Little Mud Dam on Backus Creek and Denton Creek Dam on Denton Creek, both in Roscommon County, are scheduled for removal this winter and next spring.

A recent inspection of both dams found their water-control structures are in need of extensive upgrades. After evaluating the structures’ deficiencies and age, their future maintenance needs, the estimated cost of dam replacement and the surrounding wildlife habitat, the DNR has decided to remove the two dam structures and restore the waterways’ natural water flow.

“The Wildlife Division is responsible for many water-control structures similar to these dams. They can be very expensive to repair, replace and maintain over time,” said Keith Fisher, DNR wildlife biologist. “When we have an opportunity to restore habitat to its natural setting in addition to saving maintenance dollars for other projects, it is a win-win for all involved.”

Historically, both Backus Creek and Denton Creek were active waterways for beavers and were frequently obstructed by beaver dams. These natural dams created small floodings in the areas currently known as the Little Mud Lake Flooding and the Denton Creek Flooding. They provided excellent habitat for a variety of wetland wildlife species. However, as local beaver populations declined in the 1940s and 1950s, so did the wetland habitat and biodiversity.

Denton Creek Dam

In an attempt to re-create these natural wetland floodings, the DNR (at the time known as the Department of Conservation) installed the Denton Creek Dam in 1954 and the Little Mud Dam in 1957. The infrastructure retained shallow ponds that both wildlife and wildlife recreation enthusiasts utilized. Over time, as the beaver population recovered, natural dams began to reemerge and the need for these manmade structures diminished.

“In recent years, the local beavers have been trying to outdo us,” said Mark Boersen, DNR wildlife biologist. “The beavers are back to making their own dams, often causing the water-control structures to be blocked with woody debris. Those dams risk overflooding, formation of washouts and creation of additional maintenance issues. After taking into consideration the economic, habitat and recreational impacts, we’ve decided to restore the natural waterway and let the beavers do the heavy lifting.”

Water levels at the Little Mud Dam have been drawn down, and construction to remove the dam is set to begin this winter. During construction, access to the area will be restricted.

The removal of the Denton Lake Dam will likely begin in the spring of 2022. The water levels near the dam will be reduced and access to the area will be restricted while construction is occurring. After the dam has been removed, area access will be altered, as some of the existing trail’s infrastructure will be removed.

For questions about the dam removals, please contact Mark Boersen at 989-275-5151, ext. 2722730 or Tressa Hubbard at 989-329-9505.

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