Riverside Park restoring wildlife thanks to grants and volunteers

West Michigan is home to so many great parks and green spaces. With summer now upon us, any one of them could serve as your next recreational destination. But how can we insure these spaces will be here for generations to come?

The Michigan Wildlife Council is dedicated to increasing public awareness about wildlife conservation efforts in the state of Michigan through their Here For Generations Campaign. As a part of the campaign, they have highlighted several conservation efforts taking place right here in the West Michigan region.

FOX 17 host Leigh Ann Towne recently met up with Melanie Manion, Natural Resources Supervisor for Ottawa County Parks, at Riverside Park in Grand Haven. Riverside Park features many great trails and open spaces perfect for hiking, picnicking, fishing and other outdoor activities.

Currently, there is a small paid Ottawa County Parks' seasonal staff to help out but there are more than 10000 volunteer hours that help remove invasive species, plant native trees and shrubs, and other things to help make sure of healthy, vibrant, and resilient parks. Soon, Manion said Ottawa County will have 40 properties and over 70,000 acres.

Riverside Park is very special because it's one of the oldest parks that was actually in existence prior to a parks department. It was originally owned by the road commission because parks department didn't exist. Because of that, it has a lot of legacy left over with some of the things that we're dealing with today, she explained

Manion pointed out one of the public boat launches with the beautiful Kirby Bayou nearby.  They bayou is not only great for wildlife, but it's also great for fishing, especially Northern Pike. It's a place that has a potential spawning ground for Northern Pike, too. However,  there are two major problems with the park they are trying to remedy. The first one is that due to years with low water levels, like in 2016, the culverts were higher than the water levels. This lead to the bayous being cut off from the rivers, leading to low oxygen levels, and then a big fish kill. They also discovered that meant the oxygen and the fish aren't moving back and forth between the river and the bayous like they are supposed to.

To remedy this, the culverts are going to be replaced so that they're larger and actually a bit lower, always connected whether there's lower water levels or high water levels. Phase two, which they are hoping to do soon, is a shoreline stabilization. Over the years people would actually drive their boats right up to the grand river and just dump them in. After that, the parks department was mowing and removing the vegetation that actually holds the bank in place. So, the mowing is going to stop.  They are going to do some erosion measures to stabilize the riverbank. They'll be putting down some wooded debris, like trees, that will create that habitat for fish and other wildlife like turtles and birds, but it will also help stabilize that shoreline so we stop losing soil into the Grand Rivers, she explained. The main purpose is to create spawning habitat for fish and also to make sure we stop putting in soil into the Grand River because soil is actually a form of pollution. Right now they are very fortunate to have a Department of Natural Resources grant called the Aquatic Restoration Grant, which is going to pay for phase one, also known as the connection to the bayou.

Phase two, comes in the form of hoping to secure a national grant to currently sustain our Great Lakes. If that is not granted, Manion said they will apply for another grant to do the shoreline destination work. One way or another, these projects need completed, Manion added. This year, construction should start in October.

Specialists are going to monitor what currently uses that area then after the restoration, hoping to see an improvement in diversity in the bayou and shoreline. Manion can't stress enough that this would not be possible if they didn't have all of the partners and specialists involved. Once again, those grants and partnerships include: Michigan DNR Habitat Program, National Fish and Wildlife Grant along with ALGROW.

If you would like to learn more about Ottawa County Parks, visit miottawa.org/parks. If you are interested in the fascinated work by the Michigan Wildlife Council, visit HereForMIOutdoors.org

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