'Let the beavers do the heavy lifting': Roscommon County dams to be removed

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

In the battle between nature and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, it looks like nature won: the DNR will remove two Roscommon County dams and "let the beavers do the heavy lifting."  

The DNR-owned Little Mud Dam on Backus Creek and Denton Creek Dam on Denton Creek are slated for removal this winter and next spring, officials said this month.

The removal plans followed recent inspections of both dams that found their water-control structures needed extensive upgrades. The DNR said it opted to remove the structures after evaluating their age, deficiencies and maintenance needs, as well as the estimated cost of dam replacement and the surrounding wildlife habitat.

The Little Mud Dam, to be removed due to its hazardous condition, was built in 1957.

Backus Creek and Denton Creek were considered active waterways for beavers. The creatures frequently obstructed the creeks with dams, which created "small floodings" in the areas known as the Little Mud Lake Flooding and the Denton Creek Flooding, the DNR said.

The waterways also provided habitat for wetland wildlife species, but that changed as local beaver populations declined in the 1940s and 1950s, the DNR said.

To shore up the area, the DNR, at the time known as the Department of Conservation, installed the Denton Creek Dam in 1954 and the Little Mud Dam about three years later. The beaver population eventually recovered and the natural dams re-emerged.

“In recent years, the local beavers have been trying to outdo us," said Mark Boersen, DNR wildlife biologist. “The beavers are back to making their own dams, often causing the water-control structures to be blocked with woody debris. Those dams risk overflooding, formation of washouts and creation of additional maintenance issues. After taking into consideration the economic, habitat and recreational impacts, we’ve decided to restore the natural waterway and let the beavers do the heavy lifting.”  

Denton Creek Dam, built in 1954, dams the Denton Creek, creating the Denton Creek flooding.

The move is expected to restore the waterways' natural water flow.

 “The Wildlife Division is responsible for many water-control structures similar to these dams. They can be very expensive to repair, replace and maintain over time," said Keith Fisher, DNR wildlife biologist, in a statement. "When we have an opportunity to restore habitat to its natural setting in addition to saving maintenance dollars for other projects, it is a win-win for all involved.” 

Construction to remove the Little Mud Dam is scheduled to start this winter. Water levels there have been drawn down, and access is restricted, the DNR said.

The Denton Lake Dam removal was expected to begin in spring.

"After the dam has been removed, area access will be altered, as some of the existing trail’s infrastructure will be removed," the DNR said.