JULY 24, 2019

Michigan: Dam Structures at Backus Creek SGA to Get Upgrades

The popular Roscommon County state game area will stay open, but visitors will notice construction activities and lower water levels due to flooding drawdowns

The Backus Creek State Game Area, located in Roscommon County, Michigan, will see two improvement projects begin this fall:

  • The Backus Lake dam (installed in 1937) will add a larger water control structure, both to accommodate high water levels during heavy rain and to allow DNR equipment to easily cross for work on habitat projects.
  • The Backus Creek dam (installed in 1956) will receive structural improvements, such as concrete repairs, walkway upgrades and replacement of stoplogs (the hydraulic engineering elements that control water levels).

The dams’ control structures and associated dikes originally were created to provide quality breeding habitat for waterfowl and furbearer species, as well as to increase wetland recreation opportunities – primarily fall waterfowl hunting. Unfortunately, even with annual maintenance and periodic improvements, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said a recent inspection showed that both structures need upgrades.

As part of the improvement project, both dams’ associated dikes will be refurbished with new materials. All planned enhancements are engineered to last well into the future with minimal maintenance.

Keith Fisher, a wildlife biologist who works out of the DNR’s Roscommon office, said that once the work is completed, the DNR will have greater ability to safely control water levels within the floodings (the shallow bodies of water, either natural or manmade, that provide wetland wildlife habitat).

“That capability will help us better manage improved wetland habitat, which benefits a variety of wetland species, and support recreation opportunities like hunting, fishing, canoeing, trapping and bird watching,” he said.

Next steps

In order to complete these repairs, the Backus Lake and Backus Creek floodings must be significantly lowered during construction. Only the normal flow of the Backus Creek will move through the projects during that time.

Once the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy approves the wetland permits, the drawdown of the two floodings can begin. The DNR expects to begin the drawdown in July, start construction activities in the fall and continue that work throughout winter. Construction is estimated to be completed in spring 2020; however, in order to maximize the benefit to wildlife during these projects, the water will be intentionally held at a low level throughout the summer and will be reflooded in time for waterfowl season in early fall.

How will the public be affected?

The Backus Creek State Game Area will remain open during the dam construction projects. Visitors can expect to see extremely low water levels. Access to dams, dikes and parking areas will be reduced or restricted throughout construction. This will include access to the maintenance walkway across the top of the dams that many people have used to get to additional state-managed land.

Visitors also may experience some noise disruption and construction traffic. The primitive boating ramp will be open for use, but the flooding’s water drawdown likely will limit the areas where boaters can maneuver until fall 2020, when the water level is restored.

“We realize there will be disruptions for some of the outdoor activities that people enjoy at the Backus Creek State Game Area, but hope our visitors understand that these improvements are important to maintaining these valuable natural areas for generations to come,” Fisher said.

Effect on wildlife, future outdoor recreation

A water drawdown of a flooding yields many benefits for a wetland area, which is why they are done periodically at managed wetland areas around the state. Drawdowns expose moist soils that otherwise wouldn’t see sunlight. That exposure helps dormant seeds to germinate, boosting the wetland plant diversity, which then attracts a more diverse insect community and, ultimately, a variety of wildlife species.

“Drawdowns like these really are in the best long-term interest of the area’s wildlife and habitat,” said Fisher. “That means better outdoor experiences for residents and visitors, too.”

To get more information about the planned Backus Creek State Game Area dam construction project, contact local DNR wildlife biologists Keith Fisher, 989-275-5151, ext. 2722031 or Mark Boersen, 989-275-5151, ext. 2722031.

Learn more about all of Michigan's state wildlife/game areas and the recreation opportunities available.