A Chilly Spring Day Helping the Portage Lake Natural Shoreline

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By Andy Nixon, STN Reporter

Battling icy spray, I accompanied Craig Kivi, owner of Golden Drake Realty, for a second trip to his 501(c)(3) nature conservancy, Natural Shorelines Forever, along the west shore of Portage Lake.

This adventure involved anchoring the fish sticks, placed on the ice during the winter, to the shoreline. As mentioned in the first article, a fish stick is a treetop laid horizontally along the shore with branches partially submerged. This creates a natural habitat for turtles, fish, birds hunting fish, and other wildlife.

Donning stylish breathable waders and winter jackets, we head to Riverside Pizza on Mcgregor road to launch Craig’s fishing boat. After some engine cranking, sprays of ether, and a few explicit words, the motor came out of winter hibernation. With the damn gates still open, the trip south from the launch was quick.

With the water lowered, navigating Portage Lake can be a challenge this time of year. Bouncing along the waves and feeling the cold, one can think of warmer places to be. But the purpose and passion behind Craig’s restoration project are contagious. Approaching the Norman A. Wood preserve, along the corner of Mud Bay, hundreds of bluebills, buffleheads, and ring-neck ducks are flushed into the sky. Migrating through the area, they stop to feed on decaying seaweed.

As we near shore, the work performed during the winter months is visible. Logs and stumps are now partially submerged in water. Working with EGLE, the DNR, MSU, and the MNSP (Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership), Craig volunteered to test five methods of securing the treetops to shore – Danforth anchor, duckbill anchor, 1/4" steel cable to a tree, 1/4" steel cable to post, and bamboo staking. This important task will show how different techniques age over time and be a model for any future restoration projects to see firsthand.

With his walking plank in hand, crafted from a section of plywood with a rope tied on one end, Craig jumps onto the boggy shoreline and begins stepping on the plank and moving inland to secure a group of fish sticks. Sharing he “got stuck in the mud up to his waste one day” prompts me to watch my step.

At one point, we take a moment to stand in the water and observe how calm the lake was this time of year. “Imagine 300 years ago,” Craig says, “this entire lake was surrounded by trees, some falling down and creating natural fish sticks.” Scanning the shoreline now, it’s apparent we no longer have a tolerance for trees and branches in the lake. People complain about “invasive species”, but today it seems that may be us.

After pounding 5’ bamboo stakes through the ends, anchoring the tree to shore, and collecting a fishing net full of trash picked up from the shoreline, we headed off to the Louis P. Kivi preserve on the Northwest corner of the lake. Armed with Craig’s capstan winch and some 3/4” braided line, it was time to move a 10’ log that had been placed during the winter. Determined, Craig pokes through the brush finding a sturdy tree to anchor the winch. After tying a bowline through the 4” notched-out hole in the log end, I signal for Craig to give it the beans. With little effort, the winch drags the heavy log three feet closer to the shoreline. Craig points out “with the logs at the proper angles and distance from shore, they will sweep the energy out from under the waves.” Adding “the next project is to build a few DIY wave height measuring devices I found.” The next project.

Looking back on this outing, I again walked away with more knowledge and understanding of what we must strive to accomplish with nature. The outdoors is something many of us enjoy. If you would like to be involved or learn more about how to help, look for projects in your area.

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