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Shelby Township

Repair work on Stony Dam concludes

December 20, 2013

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Stony Creek Lake levels are up by inches after the large autumn rainfalls, but they are still down by 6 feet — at least 4 feet lower than normal winter levels. The repairs on the 50-year-old south dam that required the lowering of the lake concluded late last week, and officials estimate such a drastic lowering will not be necessary for at least another 50 years.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Officials said at press time that the repairs on Stony Creek Lake’s south dam, which required a drastic 6-foot lowering of the 500-acre lake, would wrap up at the end of last week.

Stony Creek Metropark Operations Manager Gary Hopp said the repairs on the 50-year-old dam were crucial. Several massive valves wore out, and the park had to commission a new large sluice gate. The structure backs up all of the water on the manmade lake. Without it, it would just be Stony Creek.

“We have collected a little bit of water with the late fall rains we had, but, for the most part, we still have a long ways to go,” Hopp said. “The spring rains are really what will fill (the lake) up.”

Normally, crews lower the lake about 2 1/2 feet during the winter to prevent shifting ice from eroding soil and destroying fishing piers, Hopp said, and added that he hopes the park will not have to endure such an event for quite some time.

“Ice fishing will be diminished a bit due to the fact that there is less ice, and ice skating will probably not happen this year. What is typically our ice arena is a dry lake bed right now,” he said.

Stony Creek Nature Center Park Interpreter Charlie Shelton said the drop in water level will not have a lasting effect on the wildlife and that he does not expect a need to restock the lake.

Receding water revealed that the freshwater clams are large and healthy, and though a few invasive zebra mussels were present, they were not common.

“Some of this is in balance,” he said. “We made the lake in the first place; now we’re draining it to fix (the dam), so it goes back to its natural state. In some ways, the traumatic change is all manmade, and nature is doing its thing.”

Shelton said an exciting part of the lowered lake levels was the exposure of a beaver lodge that was abandoned about three years ago on Winter Island, which is located near the boat rental and the south dam.

“The entrance is typically below the water, so you can look at the lodge from a viewpoint you don’t normally get a chance to look at,” he said, and added that he and co-worker Kim Sherwin decided not to disturb it in case the beavers returned.

Park Interpreter Aaron Yilmaz echoed Shelton’s sentiments that repercussions were not likely to be significant and that, since the lake is artificial, it is not always easy to balance human needs with the needs of wildlife.

He said that if the lake experiences a prolonged period of greatly reduced levels, then the water would become less oxygenated, prey would have less shelter from predators, the shoreline may erode, wetlands may dry out, suburb pollutants may be more concentrated and increase algae growth, and shallow water may attract more invasive species.

“But I haven’t noticed anything yet,” Yilmaz said.

Hopp said he reassured people who have been away for a while that, if they return next summer, they would see the lake they remember from their childhood.

About the author

Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik covers Shelby Township and Utica for the Shelby-Utica News. Sarah has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2013 and attended Oakland University. She won a first place 2013 Excellence in Journalism award for open government reporting and a second place 2014 Excellence in Journalism award for a series of explanatory stories from the Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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