Shiatown Dam Removal Project
The River is Running Free at Former Shiatown Dam!
October 2021- On October 16th, 2021, the Friends, with the leadership of Phil Hathaway and the help of many volunteers, planted 62 trees/shrubs in Shiatown Park along the Shiawassee River. Another 28 trees/shrubs will be planted in the spring when it is the correct time to pull them out of the ground. These native plantings will help to secure the river’s edge, prevent runoff into the river, and one day, provide a canopy along the river.
“Volunteers, including several Friends, showed up at Shiatown Park today to plant trees at the site of the former dam. The air was fresh, the sky blue, and the river was running free. Thank you to Shiawassee County Parks, Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (and the Friends) for the funding. Special thanks for the in-kind donations from Great Lakes Fusion and Waste Management, and extra effort and leadership by Phil Hathaway, Ric Crawford, Tom Gross, and Tony Newman. And thank you volunteers!” - Friends Past President, Tom Cook.
“My overall plan for the site is to allow the succession forest to emerge over the decades with the many Oak-Hickory trees in the project becoming once again the climax forest of pre-Euro American settlement/deforestation. The diversity recognizes smaller eco-settings such as well-drained soils, wet soils and submergent floodplain settings. Many of the shrubs are bank erosion recovery plants, especially the speckled alder. The diversity is also in response to the intent of labeling the trees for educational field trips and general public education/enjoyment. My early observations show plenty of browsing trips of park visitors for the trees that are for now labeled with ribbons. The purpose of the plantings is to have a forest once again and to reestablish vegetation on the disturbed areas of the dam removal, about two acres in all.” Phil Hathaway
September 2019- The Shiatown dam removal and river restoration project is substantially complete. The river is free flowing and open to paddling and fishing. We highly recommend the paddle trip(s) from Geeck Rd Park down to Shiatown and/or from Shiatown to Vernon or Lytle Road. The contractor, VanDamme Trucking, still has some equipment on site awaiting transfer to Corunna later this month. All stream work is complete and the east park areas will be off limits until later this fall. Final upland restoration will be completed later this year, and the Shiawassee County Parks may pursue additional improvements in the years ahead.
Thank you everyone for your patience and support through this process. We appreciate the many funders, officials, professionals, workers, volunteers and Friends who made this restoration possible. Come out to Shiatown to see for yourself and enjoy a free-flowing Shiawassee River.
July 2019 - Further restoration of the Shiawassee River will be achieved as the final remnants of the Shiatown Dam are now being removed. The project has been long in coming (see history), and the Friends of the Shiawassee have worked with several state and local stakeholders to gain sufficient funding, meet regulatory requirements, and achieve safety, environmental, and recreational goals. By the end of 2019 the Shiawassee River will be free-flowing at the site of Shiatown County Park.
The Shiatown Dam is owned by the State of Michigan Land Bank, and they have sought to eliminate liability by removing this dangerous and obsolete dam where several children have drowned. In 2010, the Dam Safety Division of the State of Michigan had ordered steps taken to reduce the danger of dam failure, and in 2012 partial removal of the dam was accomplished. The State of Michigan asked the Friends of the Shiawassee River to assist with removal and restoration of the site.
The Friends have sought not only to eliminate a hazard in the river, but to take steps to restore the natural aspects of the Shiawassee River, create fish habitat, and expand recreation at Shiatown Park. To accomplish these goals, the Friends worked to secure funding from several state and private sources. Most notably, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources have provided both dam safety funds and an Aquatic Habitat Restoration Grant. Additional funding was secured from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network (WIN). Shiawassee County officials have lent technical advice and provided on-the-ground input on project design.
Securing these grant awards, meeting funding requirements, and coordinating different grants from different sources were the first challenge of the project. Gaining regulatory approval for the restoration of the River, which will involve work in the riverbed itself and the movement of a considerable amount of dirt, was the second challenge. The offices of State Representative Ben Glardon, and his successor Ben Frederick, helped move the project forward. All of it required patience and persistence from the volunteers working with and through the Friends. Four different executive directors for the Friends have been involved with the project. None of it could have been possible without the long-term commitment of GEI Consultants who provided engineering expertise.
Now, with water levels lower, a bid has been awarded for the final removal and restoration work. The contractor has begun work and will be putting in long days Monday to Saturday and plan to get most of the work done by Labor Day. Booms to collect sediment, called turbidity curtains, are one of several steps taken to protect water quality.
For safety reasons, access to all of the site has been limited. The small boat launch at Shiatown East Park just downstream from the dam is closed. The next downstream public access is the Vernon launch. Paddlers should either avoid, or take extreme caution, with any paddling trip in the area. Watercraft must exit the river well upstream of the dam. Once the project is complete there will ready access to the launch and no need to portage. The Shiawassee offers many other excellent paddling alternatives (see our Paddling Resources).