Paint Creek Restoration Project underway in Rochester

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 2, 2013

ROCHESTER — Those who stroll through Rochester Municipal Park can clearly see work has begun on the Paint Creek Restoration Project.

The city of Rochester kicked off the project to restore 3,500 linear feet of the Paint Creek — from Dinosaur Hill to the Paint Creek Bridge on Main Street — Sept. 9, thanks to a $750,000 federal grant funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

“We’ve made tremendous progress. It’s amazing,” said City Manager Jaymes Vettraino.

The primary goal of the project, according to Deputy City Manager Nik Banda, is to improve the habitat for aquatic resources, specifically trout. The Paint Creek, which runs through the city of Rochester, is the last natural coldwater trout-reproducing stream in southeast Michigan. That’s why city, state and federal officials agree it’s necessary to try to protect such an important natural resource.

“We have a coldwater draw from Lake Orion that goes into the Paint Creek. That’s what keeps this a trout stream …  that’s why trout come in there, and that’s why it’s special. There’s not another one in southeast Michigan like this,” he explained.

The project also includes stream stabilization and erosion control, soft shoring and vegetation, and floodplain connectivity, Vettraino added.

Over the last few weeks, crews have removed the gabion baskets — the wire baskets filled with rocks — around the creek near the duck pond and regraded the stream bank.

“We’re putting down the seed and plantings on the bank right now so that it becomes a natural bank, which is much healthier for the stream, better for the trout and visually more pleasant than the hardscape that was used before to stabilize the bank,” Vettraino said. “That old technology did a great job at keeping the water from eroding the bank, but ways have been developed — over the past 20 years since we placed the gabion baskets — to stabilize the bank with natural plantings rather than the stones.”

Debris from the old dam, which Vettraino said is really the centerpiece of the project, has also been removed.

“They have begun constructing what I call step pools and fish ladders. Instead of an old dam abutment and broken concrete, they’ve cleared all that out and are now making a gradual step-down in that area, which is better for fish passage, as well as it’s just really visually pleasing,” he said. “Other cool things that they have installed — they placed some woody debris, large fallen trees, in the stream itself and pounded it in with stakes to provide shelter and natural habitat for trout. The water comes through there pretty quick, so some of this woody debris that would naturally be occurring because it’s pretty open in this area, has washed away, and we’re adding it back, making sure that it’s secure, and providing a place to keep the stream cool, which is important for the fish habitat. It makes it more of a natural channel.”

Banda said the restoration project is a great way to upgrade a great resource.

“The fact that we have Trout Unlimited and we have the Clinton Valley Watershed group involved as advisors is really important to the project. … Whenever you have more brains and ideas from people that have a passion for the resource, which is a trout stream, you get better results,” said Banda.

Vettraino said he’s also excited about the addition of formalized areas of access to the water, which will be worked on over the next couple of weeks.

“A big piece of this was also to make sure that people knew where to access the water, places that were safe for the fishermen to access, but also the families that want to enjoy areas close to the stream. Rather than to just kind of trample on the banks and have erosion issues, we’re hardscaping some flat rock areas for people to have clear access to the water,” he said.

While the construction phase of the project will be complete by the end of October, Vettranio said the overall restoration project wouldn’t come to a close until August 2014.

“Real work — the machines and the people — will end Oct. 31. Then all of the plant maintenance and monitoring of the plantings … begins Nov. 1 and goes straight through to August of 2014; that’s when the actual grant project is over, once we’ve had a full year of monitoring the stream, making sure the improvements are right and making sure that all the plant material is doing what it’s supposed to on the banks,” he said.