REMOVAL OF the Shiatown Dam was completed in 2019 by U.P.-based MJ VanDamme Trucking. The Friends of the Shiawassee River oversaw the dam’s removal, which began in 2012. Phase I with dam removal and channel restoration complete, Shiatown Park has been completely transformed, as seen in August of 2019.

(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)


by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor

   Since being founded in 1996, the Friends of the Shiawassee River (FOSR) has worked to maintain and improve the health of the Shiawassee River, enhance the community’s appreciation and knowledge of the river and increase recreational access and responsible use of the river. As we move into 2020, the FOSR is still hard at work in its mission.

   Through the work of the Shiawassee River Water Trail Coalition, which includes the FOSR and other individuals and organizations along the 88-mile Shiawassee River, the Shiawassee River was designated a state water trail in December of 2018.

   And then in 2019, the FOSR oversaw the completion of the Shiatown Dam removal project. The dam removal was completed ahead of schedule, prior to Labor Day. By removing the dam, the FOSR has eliminated a hazard in the river, taken steps to restore and stabilize the river’s natural shape and integrity, created a viable aquatic habitat for a variety of wildlife and vegetation, and expanded recreation at Shiatown Park, while also reducing the risk of flooding downstream by lowering the floodplain and eliminating the threat of dam failure.

   The Friends worked to secure funding from several state and private sources, most notably the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, along with additional funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN).

   Phase I of the Shiatown Dam removal project began in 2012, and the project’s second two phases were completed in 2019. Phase II included the removal of the dam’s piers, retaining walls and powerhouse, and Phase III included channel restoration, stabilization and habitat improvements.

   Concrete rubble was used to fill in the 12-foot scour hole just downriver of the dam, and natural stone was used to create a riffle in the dam’s place. Approximately 16,000 cubic yards of dirt was removed from the area surrounding the dam, and significant excavation was undertaken to restore and stabilize the banks of the river, while maintaining a river width of 115 feet.

   With the Shiawassee River now flowing freely through Shiatown Park, and with removal of Corunna Dam nearly complete, 335 miles of habitat will soon be opened up for native wildlife. The removal of the dams also greatly increases recreational opportunities and could boost tourism in the many communities along the river.

   Also in 2019, the FOSR appointed Lorraine Austin as executive director. With Austin at the helm, the FOSR and the Shiawassee County Health Department hosted the 24th and “most successful” annual Shiawassee River Cleanup to date. Almost 200 volunteers turned out to pick up trash from over 10 miles of the river, from Geeck Road Park to Henderson Park. Together the group removed 15 cubic yards of trash (approximately 90 13-gallon trash bags full) and over 800 tires both from the river together with the tire collection event that was held at the Shiawassee County Road Commission. The 25th (silver anniversary) Shiawassee River Cleanup will be held on Saturday, July 25, 2020.

   To further increase recreational access to the Shiawassee River, in 2019 the FOSR enlisted a Virginia-based company, Terrain360, to create a 360-degree, panoramic image map of the entire 88 miles of the Shiawassee River Water Trail. The interactive map can be viewed at

   Austin also led the effort to obtain a $20,000 grant from the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments (GLISA) in 2019. Only 12 organizations received the GLISA grants, which were awarded to assist local organizations in implementing climate adaptation projects in the Great Lakes using GLISA’s existing climate information services.

   The FOSR is using the GLISA resources to hold three educational forums on the impacts of extreme weather events throughout the diverse Shiawassee River Watershed to inform and engage local governments and residential landowners along the river; farmers, agricultural landowners and conservation organizations; and recreational users of the river, including anglers, hunters, paddlers and wildlife advocates. The FOSR project is titled “Responding to Climate Change in the Diverse Shiawassee River Watershed.”

   Upcoming in 2020, the Friends of the Shiawassee River will hold its annual meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts, and a Winter Stonefly Search has been scheduled at Shiatown Park for Sunday, Jan. 26 from 2 to 3 p.m. Additional events can be found on the FOSR website,

   The FOSR also works to eliminate invasive species in the river, with the help of the state of Michigan and other community partners. The Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program (MISGP) – cooperatively implemented by the Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development; Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; and Natural Resources – addresses prevention, detection, eradication and control of aquatic (water-based) and terrestrial (land-based) invasive species in Michigan by preventing the introduction of new invasive species; strengthening the statewide invasive species early detection and response network; limiting the spread of recently confirmed invasive species; and managing and controlling widespread, established invasive species.

   This year’s grants will support 21 regional Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas (CISMA), the network of partnership organizations that work to manage and control invasive species and provide service to all 83 counties in the state.

   The GiLLS CISMA, covering Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston and Shiawassee counties, is a partnership of organizations and landowners that are working to effectively and efficiently manage invasive species. The MISGP map and a full list of grant recipients, project descriptions and award amounts are available on the MISGP website,

Restoration of Shiawassee River to Continue in 2020 was last modified: January 6th, 2020 by Karen Elford