A landscape of the river on Jan. 12 surrounds Shiawassee Park in Farmington, where stoneflies can be found. A winter stonefly search is set for volunteers from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex, 650 Church St. in Plymouth.

A landscape of the river on Jan. 12 surrounds Shiawassee Park in Farmington, where stoneflies can be found. A winter stonefly search is set for volunteers from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex, 650 Church St. in Plymouth.

Photo by Alison Zywicki


Stonefly search on tap throughout Rouge communities

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published January 16, 2019

 A portion of the river surrounding Shiawassee Park is a habitat where stoneflies can be found.

A portion of the river surrounding Shiawassee Park is a habitat where stoneflies can be found.

Photo by Alison Zywicki

METRO DETROIT — Sally Petrella, volunteer monitoring program manager for the Friends of the Rouge, knows the reaction all too well.

Volunteers who attend the winter stonefly search show up and are in awe of what they see in the river: diverse species.

“A lot of people who come the first time always seem to be fascinated by what lives in the river. They had no idea,” she said, adding that people tell her that they drive by a particular stream for years, and when they volunteer with the group they see what comes out of the stream and are in awe. “(They) never imagined the life in that stream.”

A winter stonefly search is set for volunteers from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Plymouth Arts & Recreation Complex, 650 Church St. in Plymouth.

Volunteers are needed to help look for “sensitive aquatic insects,” which are an indicator of good water quality, according to a press release; no experience is necessary.

Attendees are asked to dress for the weather, and minors must be accompanied by a participating adult. The release states that groups larger than six must be split up. Attendees also need to have their own transportation to sampling sites, and carpooling is encouraged.

Volunteers are pre-assigned to teams that each travel to two stream sites, where they pick through samples collected from the stream by team leaders, according to the press release.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people choose to come and just enjoy being outdoors and learning a little bit about the river,” Petrella said. “It is just a great opportunity to go out in the wintertime and get to know your local stream.”

She added that a stonefly is an aquatic insect that lives part of its life cycle in streams.

“So they need cold, clean, fast-moving streams that are not polluted, and they hatch in streams in the wintertime, which is why we are looking for them in January,” Petrella said, adding that the stonefly search has been going on since 2002. “We have found that our higher-quality streams in the Rouge are out ... in Northville, Plymouth area, Salem Township.

The Friends of the Rouge also described stoneflies as a primitive group of insects named for their habit of crawling on stones in a river. They have high oxygen needs, which limits them to clean, well-oxygenated streams.

She added that stoneflies have also been found in Farmington Hills and Farmington.

“We very rarely find them in Farmington, as far as I can tell … but we have found them,” she said.

Bill Eisenman, team leader for FOTR, said that the weather plays an “intense role” when it comes to searching for stoneflies.

“It requires chopping through the ice and feeling your way around in very cold temperatures — not quite hospitable,” he said, adding that stoneflies live in clean water. “(It) really gives a clue to (the) health of the system.”

William Craig, a Livonia resident and FOTR volunteer, said that he has been a volunteer for over 30 years. For stonefly searches, he is a searcher.

“I am the one generally that goes in the water … just the role that I play for safety’s sake,” he said. “A searcher has to take extra precautions and feel comfortable going into icy water in the winter, and they have to understand the different search techniques that we’re looking for for the stoneflies and getting in and out of the water.”

He added that there are also pickers who go through the debris that the searchers take out of the river, and they look for the stoneflies.

Craig has been doing this, in particular, for 17 years.

“I’m not a scientist; I’m not tracking the data — that is what FOTR does,” he said, adding that sometimes he finds stoneflies and sometimes he doesn’t, but that doesn’t always mean that they aren’t there. “That only means on that day I didn’t find any.”

Craig uses a net, similar to a butterfly net with finer mesh material, and it is dragged along a creek course, under wedges, in between rocks and wood that might be in the river.

“Places that the stonefly might be living and feeding, and that is their home for that stage in their life,” Craig said.

Once collected, the date is tabulated into numbers and the locations of where the stoneflies were found.

“Then they (FOTR) do data trends. Are we seeing more? Are we seeing less? Is there a continued absence?”

Craig added that he has been to many places, some repeatedly.

“They are a good indicator species of good water … water with a lot of oxygen in it and a certain water quality,” he said. “If you have them and you find them and you see them in good numbers, that means it is better.”

The Rouge River, whose upper branch runs through Heritage Park, has four main branches — the main, the upper, the middle and the lower — that comprise 126 river miles.

The Rouge River drains through 467 miles in three counties and 48 municipalities in metro Detroit. The watershed communities are also home to nearly 1.35 million people, according to www.therouge.org.

The registration deadline has passed, but to attend the winter stonefly search, email Petrella at spetrella@therouge.org to see about available openings.

For more information, go to www.therouge.org/stoneflies.