In 1970, Baker Creek, a spring-fed creek on the Little South Branch, was impounded with a dam to form Lake Connamara. A local group of residents and anglers were very concerned about the effect of the dam on water temperatures … thermal pollution. Three leaders who played important roles were Don Ingle, whose outdoor journalism brought this to the public attention, Will Wolfe, who was president of West Michigan Trout Unlimited, and Buck Gotshall, who convened the group and became the first president of our watershed council. Will continued and organized a citizens’ committee which drafted Michigan’s Inland Lakes and Streams Act of 1972. The Act prohibits any impoundments to the detriment of the public interest and allows DNR permits only in extraordinary circumstances.
One of the oldest “grassroots” conservation groups in existence, the Pere Marquette Watershed Council was organized in 1970. It has been active in protecting, enhancing and restoring the entire river system for over four decades. Originally, the Council was set up by local residents to end the negative impact of canoeists on the river and stop the building of dams on river tributaries which were raising the water temperatures. The Pere Marquette had never been dammed and the new and proposed impoundments would have ended the river’s history as a cold running river. The Council’s initial actions reduced sand inundation water pollution, erosion and property destruction.
Incorporated in 1971, the Pere Marquette Watershed Council (PMWC) used local effort and initiative to slowly build a program aimed at maintaining watershed quality and helping landowners solve local problems. Cooperative programs were arranged with Soil Conservation Districts in the Watershed. In 1985, a Streambank Erosion Inventory was completed. Supported by the Council and supervised by the PM River Restoration Committee, it was the first of its kind on the river. A partnership of the Northwest Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council (now Conservation Resource Alliance), PMWC, Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited, Mason–Lake Soil Conservation Service, MDNR and the USFWS was formed to implement strategy. This Partnership still exists. In 1986, restoration activities in the headwaters of the watershed began ,followed by mainstream work in 1988. The project was funded by MDNR & USFS, with the total reaching $1.4 Million. The work took ten years. The restoration of the Big South Branch followed. Although smaller in size, but no less important, the PMWC has completed numerous streambank restoration projects, fish habitat structures, erosion control projects, dam removals and more throughout the river system. Work has been completed on the Little South Branch, Middle Branch, The Forks, Mainstem and the Big South Branch as well as the Baldwin River.
In 1993, the Pere Marquette Watershed Council became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. By becoming a tax deductible corporation, it increased the amount of donations it received. Outside funds, grants and larger donations were suddenly within reach. All help to assist the Council in its efforts of conservation.
The Watershed Council continues to preserve, protect, and enhance the Pere Marquette’s natural resources.