The Dam, and the Roosevelt Pavilion

Recently, I attended a Barry County Commission Meeting where they approved an official declaration of ownership of the Gun Lake Dam. It was a unanimous vote – however, the mood in the room was not exactly “cheery”. Picture an episode of Maury Povich, where Maury announces “Yes Michael, the test results show you’re the father! Oh, and by the way, your kid needs some expensive surgery…” I overheard murmurs of “Are we supposed to owns dams?” and “Can we give it to somebody – like the Drain Commissioner?” (Russ Yarger is going to own this baby one way or the other…LOL!..and that’s OK with me!)

So at least the first step has been taken – but I get the impression this “walk towards replacement” is going to be quite the trek….. and being the impatient person that I am – it seems like anything the government does, moves in slow motion.

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BUT – things DO get accomplished!!!  (doing a Happy Dance!)  I think it was in his first year as the Yankee Springs Supervisor, that Mark Englerth invited Michigan Senator Rick Jones, Representative Mike Callton, several county and township commissioners (plus a handful of local residents), to go on a guided tour of Yankee Springs State Park.

The property for the park was purchased in the 1930s by the Federal Government; and through the efforts of the CCC, it was developed into a beautiful, wooded getaway and learning center, destined perhaps, to become a National Park?  But WWII had the Gov’t divesting itself of things not related to war efforts, so in 1943, the park was given to the State of Michigan.  And through the years, maintenance for the State Park was often underfunded, and some of the landmark buildings began to show their age.

So Mark’s tour group found themselves standing inside the beautiful Roosevelt Pavilion, on the east side of the Day Use area, and looking up at rotting beams and seeing daylight where bits of the roof were simply gone.  The big structure that had provided shade and shelter for thousands of beachgoers, company picnics, wedding receptions, and countless gatherings for decades, was looking a bit shaky.  A sturdy long table, hand-hewn from the local trees and still sporting its CCC identification tag, was being threatened by leaking rain, year after year.  The buildings needed MAJOR structural repairs.  Mark implored our elected officials to not let these pieces of history be lost.

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Maybe a year later – lo and behold! – money became available from the State, earmarked for the restoration!!!!  I’m sending a huge (((HUG!))) to our elected officials who made that happen.  And it took almost another year for the crews to finally show up – but yesterday, I took this picture of the Roosevelt Pavilion after its lengthy makeover, looking strong, protective, and dignified once again.

Pavilion

 

PS:  These are some of my kids/grandkids at a family celebration held at the Pavilion a year ago – you can see the pine trees have been removed, which will probably help the shingles last longer now that they’re not buried in pine needles.  Yes, I truly love this building!!

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Some Gun Lake History – and myths dispelled!

As a decades-long lake resident, I had been told that Gun Lake was originally a series of 5 or so lakes interconnected by a river until the dam was constructed, creating a unified lake. I had also heard stories of the local farmers dynamiting that dam from time to time?  Thank goodness, that in 1957, a person named J.W. Hamp took the time to assemble and record the historical and legal details surrounding the creation of the Gun Lake Dam in a report called “A Brief History Of The Problems In Connection With Organization, Construction, And Maintenance Of The Gun River Drain With Some Significant Legal Details”.  OK – the title is a bit wordy – but it was a fascinating read!   Most of the following details come from that; other details come from copies of long-ago local newspaper articles, that Jan Lippert gave me.

The truth is, that Gun Lake has ALWAYS looked pretty much like it does now.  I’ve seen a map from 1873; and the lake is clearly recognizable as the large, single body of water that it is now.  In the past, the massive, 20,000-acre “Gun Swamp” that formed the southern edge of the lake acted like a dam, to keep the lake at a fairly consistent level.  The Gun Swamp was popular with waterfowl hunters; but was good for little else…… until someone planted a crop on a dry patch.

Local farmers who were able to drain a few acres, reaped rich harvests from the fertile, muck-laden soil.  The first Petition To Drain was received by the Allegan Drain Commissioner in 1892; others followed in 1896, 1897, 1900, 1908 and 1915.  A newspaper headline from 1912 declares “Onion Fields Will Replace Big Marsh”!  Farmland was selling for the unheard-of price of $150-$200 per acre by 1914!  However, Gun Lake was also becoming a popular recreation area; beautiful resorts, hotels and cottages were being built; and the lakefront property owners realized that draining the swamp was also going to lower the level of the lake by 2′ or so.  (THAT is where the concept of several deep lakes interconnected by a river must have come from – and probably happened as the lake levels fluctuated during the process of finding a happy medium for both sides).

In 1905, the Gun Lake Protective Association got a Circuit Court Injunction to halt drainage within 2 miles of the lake in order to preserve the natural water level.  In 1913, another Restraining Order against draining was issued against the Drain Commissioners of Allegan and Barry County, even though a proposal to build a dam was included in the project (It sounds like there was a fear that Gun Lake would still drain itself via groundwater?).  In 1921, a Circuit Court Order officially set the Gun Lake water level at 744.32′ above Sea Level, Civil Engineers felt confident that the lake would NOT drain through the groundwater table, and an earthen dam was built by the Intercounty Drain Commissioners quite a way downstream from the current dam.  IF that dam was ever dynamited – it would NOT have been by the farmers – they didn’t want more water downstream to ruin their croplands.  If it happened at all, it was probably the work of hunters who wanted to restore the wetlands?

By the late 1930’s, it was apparent that the drain needed to be cleared because cropland was flooding, but was stymied by the Court Injunction of 1905.  Also, fears of flooding downstream on the Kalamazoo River due to the additional swampwater added the Plainwell Paper Mills to the fray.  In 1946, another Petition To Drain was filed with the Allegan/Barry Intercounty Drain Commission.  By that time, though, members of the Muck Growers group had met with members of the GLPA and the Michigan Dep’t of Conservation, to work out a compromise that would lift the injunction against drainage, by building a permanent, water-level-preserving dam closer to the lake.  The first dam installed was 50′ wide; but it was discovered that this didn’t allow enough water to escape during high-water periods, so our current 72′-wide dam was built in 1951.

One thing was very apparent, as I read these articles and reports: the Gun Lake Dam benefits both the lake owners AND the downstream farmers.  Take away the dam, and we’d all be left with nothing.

The Story Of E-coli

Remember when your Mom said that if you kept hanging around with troublemakers, you’d get a bad reputation??  Well that’s what happened to little ol’ E-coli.

E-coli is actually a very good bacteria – it lives in the digestive tracts of all warm-blooded animals; from mice to moose, from hummingbirds to herons; and of course, in humans.  There are approximately 225 unique strains of E-coli, and they are essential to the functioning of a healthy digestive system.   E-coli is reliable – it always indicates its presence in a Petri dish.  And it’s cheap: it doesn’t cost much to run a Lab Test for E-coli.  It’s so trustworthy, it’s been given its own nickname: “F.B.I.” which stands for Fecal Bacteria Indicator.

Mom was right, however.  If E-coli is “Snow White” – she’s always accompanied by The Seven Pathogens.  (A pathogen is a microorganism that makes us sick).  The Nasty Seven are called Salmonella, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter, Streptococci, Enterococci, and Clostridium.   (There’s more, actually – but then I lose my storyline…LOL!)  These pathogens can kill; or make you so sick that you WISH you were dead….  E-coli has a dark side, too: it has one strain labeled 0157-H7 and it’s a news-maker when it gets into the commercial food chain and creates an outbreak  of illness.  Normally, 0157 is somewhat uncommon; but studies have shown that when cattle are fed a high-energy, corn-based diet, the pH in their digestive tract changes to favor E-coli 0157.  The bacteria is shed in manure, which then tends to be spread on the fields and crops that are used to feed the cattle; and the cycle continues.

So the revelation is: when we discover E-coli, we’ve also found a lot of other fecal bacteria.  And they’re tough little buggers, unfortunately.  Tests done by the University of Wisconsin show that E-coli 0157 can live from 2 months to a year in manure; 2 days to 10 months in soil; and 2 weeks to 6 months in water, depending on how “friendly” those environments are.  The Nasty Seven are equally as long-lived, sad to say.  Some can form spores and live through the worst of conditions, for over a year.

So what makes a friendly environment for a bacteria to “live long and prosper”?  All my studying (yes, I read a LOT about “cooties”…LOL!) shows that fecal bacteria enjoy wet sand, for example (think the beach) – but if you give them a nice organic sediment, moderate water temperatures, and a lack of sunlight??  They’ll move in and become “endemic”.  That means they like the neighborhood so much that they’ll raise a family there, too.  Sometimes they become anti-social, find a nice textured surface, cover themselves with a coating of slime, and just hang out, undetected, for months.  Until something or somebody disturbs them.  (Go stick your finger inside your garden hose.  Feel the slime???
Betcha don’t drink out of THAT ever again…LOL!).

Sadly, the Cuddy Drain is a fecal bacteria’s idea of a Five-Star Resort.  Nice, shady locations offering pools filled with organic debris (leaves/grass/branches, etc) and a steady supply of nutrients from farm and residential runoff.  It never dries up, nor gets too hot or too cold.  Bottom line: there will ALWAYS be *some* fecal bacteria in the Cuddy Drain.  The trick now becomes: How To Attain Acceptable Levels.

For starters, don’t put fecal bacteria in the Cuddy in the first place.  Duh!  While there’s not much we can do about the deer or raccoon or duck who poops in the Drain – we CAN be careful when spreading manure.  The Michigan DEQ advises farmers to adhere to “BMPs”: Best Management Practices.  Like leaving a nice wide Buffer Strip between a crop and the Drain or its tributaries.  Fencing livestock at least 25′ away.  Not allowing runoff from feedlots to enter the Drain.  There’s a 28′ drop in elevation from the far reaches of the Cuddy Watershed to the bridge at Patterson Rd.  Manure accidentally dropped in the  Cuddy can be in Gun Lake (over 2 miles away) in under an hour.  But there are others sources besides farming; illicit connections from buildings/homes to Drains, using the Drain like an open sewer – or simply a home with a failing septic system (so far, testing has NOT shown this to be the case along the  Cuddy); the careless RV’er or boater who dump their Black Tanks illegally; or even some moron using a Pitching Wedge to loft dog turds into the waterway?  Hey – nothing surprises ME anymore.

I must add – the source that looks the most obvious, the Biosolids Program (where wastewater treatment sludge is injected into the soil) – is NOT to blame for elevated E-coli levels.  This program is monitored by the DEQ out of Grand Rapids; the pathogens are killed before the sludge is injected 10″ underground; and a DEQ representative is on-site making sure there are NO signs of raw sludge or liquid standing about.  Dead E-coli does NOT register on an E-coli test.  If you see a field with liquid waste on the surface – it’s NOT sewage sludge.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Biosolids:

http://www.michigan.gov//documents/deq/WEF_Land_App_and_Compost_Fact_Sheet1.PDF_323940_7.pdf

Secondly – let’s not provide a lovely habitat for bacteria to thrive in.  If you see debris in the Drain – pull it out!  Do your part for a healthy Drain 🙂  Don’t become part of what I like to call the “Oops! Cycle”: where one homeowner lets some grass clippings blow into the channel and thinks “oops!”.   Another homeowner blows some leaves into the channel and thinks “oops!”.  Another homeowner applies lawn fertilizer with phosphorus – “oops!”  A farm worker cuts a little too close to the Drain while spreading manure a mile upstream, and thinks “oops!”….. ALL those elements combine to form the perfect environment for bacteria to grow – and chances are the homeowners are the most directly affected by the unsafe levels of E-coli in their recreational water, yet don’t realize their own participation.

“Snow White and the Seven Pathogens” need to find a home elsewhere.

A Brief History of the Cuddy Drain

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In spite of its rather lackluster name, the Cuddy Drain is actually a lovely, spring-fed creek that  meanders across farmlands,  tranquil forests and wetlands.  It ties together Mill Pond, Boot Lake and Round Lake in a watershed that’s 6+ square miles; and is the largest tributary entering Gun Lake at Robbins Bay.  Parts of it have been dug out and straightened, but it never runs dry and has its  share of fish, amphibians and reptiles living in or near it.  Dozens of species of birds and mammals  live nearby; the more unique being the mink and American River Otters who are spotted occasionally by Cuddy residents.

(For clarity’s sake, I’ll refer to the watershed west of Patterson Road as the “Cuddy Drain”; and its residential connection to Gun Lake, west of Patterson, as the “Cuddy Channel”)

A nameless creek can be seen in an Allegan County/Wayland Township map from 1873, draining Boot and Round Lakes by running north; then heading due east towards Robbins Bay in Gun Lake.  As tributaries/drains were added to the creek to drain farmland, they tended to be named for the owner of the main piece of property they crossed.  The Cuddy Drain ran from NW to SE; the Boot Lake Drain ran from SW to NE to join the Cuddy; there they joined the Gardner Drain as it traveled eastward to Gun Lake.  The Tawsley and Holbrook Drains also feed the Gardner on its north edge.  Since the Drain crossed into Yankee Springs Twp. in Barry County, it ultimately became called the Cuddy Intercounty Drain and is overseen by the Drain Commissioners of both Allegan and Barry Counties.

In September 1957, Valley Park Shores was platted on the north side of the Cuddy Channel (Barry County), and the majority of homes on Valley Dr were built in the late 1950s to the mid ’60’s.  A year later, the southern side was platted as Valley Park Shores #1, with Park Dr as its access.  In October 1967, the Island Dr area was platted as Valley Park Shores #2; and the final plat to abut the Cuddy Channel was the Boardwalk Condominiums in 2002.  Today, there’s 100+ homes using the Cuddy Channel’s watery road to Gun Lake!