Dam removal brings

a trout stream back to life

Removing an obsolete dam from Wheeler Creek, a tributary of the Manistee River, restored the natural conditions in several miles of a coldwater trout stream and removed a safety hazard.


In 1867, a pioneer named John Wheeler built a dam to power a sawmill near the confluence of the Manistee River and the creek that now bears his name. The Wheeler Creek Dam contributed to Michigan’s timber industry but did so at the expense of a coldwater creek that had a self-sustaining population of brook trout.  For nearly 150 years, Wheeler Dam served as an ecological divide between Wheeler Creek and the Manistee River — a major Lake Michigan tributary that is also a state designated Natural River and a federally designated Wild & Scenic River. When the 20-foot-tall dam began to crumble, the Conservation Resource Alliance worked with several partners to remove the dam and restore Wheeler Creek and its natural connection to the Manistee River.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Blocked fish passage
  • Thermal pollution
  • Sediment build up
  • Fragmentation of the creek
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat


A creek with vegetated streambanks

Wheeler Creek after the dam was removed restored this coldwater trout stream. Credit: Conservation Resource Alliance.

Results and Accomplishments

The project restored natural conditions in seven miles of Wheeler Creek; reestablished the creek’s natural connection to the Manistee River; removed 1,446 cubic yards of sediment from the creek; restored the natural movement of sediment and nutrients in the creek; and provided miles of new habitat for the native brook trout population.