Dam removal liberates

a long-harnessed river

Removing the Mill Creek Dam in southeast Michigan improved a Lake Erie tributary, restored natural rapids and prompted the development of a waterfront park and trails.


In 1824, the man who founded the village of Dexter built a dam on Mill Creek. Samuel Dexter used the dam to power a sawmill and later a grain mill. A number of people owned and operated the dam until it was taken out of service in the early 1900s.  The dam, which later became the base of a road through Dexter, was hazardous to swimmers and boaters and a financial liability for the village, located about 50 miles west of Detroit. The dam played a key role in the development of Dexter, but the structure blocked fish passage, submerged prime fish habitat under a millpond and altered the natural movement of water, sediment and nutrients. Those problems were significant because Mill Creek is the largest tributary of the Huron River, a large river that flows into western Lake Erie. The dam was removed in 2008 and natural rapids quickly returned to that stretch of Mill Creek. Aquatic insects and trout returned after the dam was removed, which attracted anglers and paddlers to the village. Dexter officials also obtained state grants to build a linear park and trail along the restored creek. The popular park has attracted numerous visitors, revitalized Dexter’s business district and become a fixture of the community.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Lack of fish passage
  • Altered stream flow
  • Thermal pollution
  • Degraded fish and wildlife habitat


Mill Creek with an adjacent pathway

Mill Creek now flows freely, for the first time in nearly two centuries after the dam was removed in 2008. Credit: Todd Marsee Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

The project restored the natural flow in Mill Creek, improved fish habitat and increased the number of fish and desirable insects around the dam site. The former dam site also became the centerpiece of a waterfront park that has attracted visitors and pumped life into Dexter’s downtown business community.