Fresh Thinking Spares a Growing Township and Its Creek
“A wonderful jewel.” That’s what Don Kurylowicz calls Bear Creek, a magnificent coldwater stream that winds behind his roadside restaurant, the Honey Creek Inn. Bear Creek meanders through Cannon Township, just northeast of Grand Rapids, embraced by fields of dandelion and daisies and cattail-cluttered marshes and shaded by oak, maple, and tamarack branches.
“Everybody who lives here recognizes Bear Creek is something special,” says Mr. Kurylowicz, who has lived in the area for 17 years.
Cannon Township recently held its eighth annual Bear Creek Waterfest. This year’s festivities were so successful that the folks putting on the pancake breakfast ran out of plates.
“No resource is more public than water,” explains Bonnie Shupe, the township’s clerk and watershed administrator. “It brings people together.”
It was the community’s love for Bear Creek that gave Ms. Shupe the “watershed administrator” part of her title, a job that has her keeping watch over the marshes and streams that feed into Bear Creek — its watershed.
Cannon Township recognized early in the 1990s that new development pressing into the area could overwhelm Bear Creek unless local officials set protection standards.
The township’s early adoption of “watershed planning” has been a resounding success. Cannon Township’s population increased 52 percent in the 1990s, but Bear Creek remains clean and rich with wildlife. The primary parts of the township’s program are:
• The Bear Creek Watershed Protection Overlay District, which requires natural vegetation through stream corridors and septic systems set back from Bear Creek and tributaries.
• A site ranking system to alert builders and the planning commission to valuable natural resources on the land.
• A proposed stormwater ordinance that will require builders to show how they will limit rain runoff, soil erosion, and the amount of pollution entering local streams.
Township to township
The more the township’s officials learn about the challenges and opportunities confronting their watershed, however, the more they realize the return on their investment depends largely on how their neighbors act.
“I had been concentrating my efforts on the part of Bear Creek watershed that lies in Cannon Township,” Shupe says. “But a great deal of the watershed lies in Grattan Township. This has taught me that what we’re attempting here must be extended to our neighbors in order to be effective.” Ms. Shupe now meets regularly with neighboring townships to coordinate water protection efforts.