Paint Creek Restoration Project – Two Thumbs-Up from Fishermen

Jackson Dirt Work Crews restoring Paint Creek. Photo courtesy of Wayne Snyder.

Jackson Dirt Work Crews restoring Paint Creek. Photo courtesy of Wayne Snyder.

It’s not often a radical change to a beloved trout stream gets such strong approval, if any approval at all. Trout fishermen are a finicky sort and can get downright heated over changes to what they’ve taken under their wings and into their hearts as “their” waters. “What was wrong with the way it was?” they’ll lament and strongly protest all comers with designs on their domain.

But the visionaries and engineers that planned and are now executing the Paint Creek Restoration Project in the Rochester Municipal Park have managed to achieve remarkable progress and, surprisingly, excitement in the trout fishing community. The scope of the project is expected to vastly improve trout habitat from Dinosaur Hill to the Paint Creek Bridge on Main Street and this stretch is one of the most popular, and heavily fished, waters of Paint Creek. To fund the project the city of Rochester received a $750,000 federal grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Curving, rocky step pools everywhere. Photo courtesy of Wayne Snyder.

Curving, rocky step pools everywhere. Photo courtesy of Wayne Snyder.

A recent walk through the park with Clinton Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited president Jason Davis made me kick my heels with anticipation. Where the stream was once flat and girdled with ugly rock-filled gabion baskets, the banks are now regraded and pleasantly sloped returning Paint Creek to its natural “soft shore” state. Reducing stream erosion, the primary purpose of the gabion baskets, is now achieved with natural plantings of attractive East Friesland Sage, Arizona Sun Blanket Flower, Mango Yarrow and Crimson & Gold Quince. Strategic placement of staked-in “woody debris” (large fallen trees) and undercut banks will provide shelter for the trout. The effect is a visually more pleasant bank that is more healthy for the stream and better for the trout. Although the main course of the creek through the park is unchanged, the stream-flow of Paint Creek itself has an engineered design now with numerous, curving, rocky step pools and fish ladders designed to assist fish in moving up or down-stream. Even the fact that Paint Creek drops some 25 feet in elevation through the restoration area was considered in the projects engineering. Visitor are advised to not move the rocks to assure the fish passage area functions properly

East Friesland Sage ready for planting. Photo courtesy of Wayne Snyder.

East Friesland Sage ready for planting. Photo courtesy of Wayne Synder.

The trout of Paint Creek are planted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division. The department has stocked the creek since the 1940’s and annually stocks over 6,500 brown trout. Once established in the creek the trout will reproduce naturally and the project is expected to improve that ability. It is Paint Creek’s robust trout population that is the main draw for local anglers.

The title of the project alludes to a very welcome change  ̶ a restoration. And Paint Creek in downtown Rochester is beginning to be restored to the former splendor of its not-so-distant past. Local Trout Unlimited chapters and the Clinton River Watershed Council were involved as project advisers. Trout Unlimited’s Jason Davis says, “As far as the trout are concerned the Paint Creek Restoration Project is the best thing that’s happened to the creek in decades. The fishermen I’ve polled are delighted and excited.”

Both Deputy City Manager, Nik Banda and Derrick Kozicki, Assistant to the City Manager, both trout enthusiasts and fishermen, remarked how satisfying this project really is for them. In a phone interview with Derrick he said this project is “…not even work. This is fun and it’s art!” And about working with stream engineer Spicer Engineering, “From the start they were trying to think like fish.” What we as fishermen, as environmentalists, or simply lovers of splendid scenery applaud most about the project is that Paint Creek’s portrait now has a smile.


Wayne Snyder is the author of three books about fly fishing in Michigan. He resides in Rochester Hills.

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