Conserving the Looking Glass River, a treasured resource for DeWitt

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Kayak/canoe launch at Looking Glass Riverfront Park on Herbison Rd.

Kayak/canoe launch at Looking Glass Riverfront Park on Herbison Road

By Laina Stebbins
Bath-DeWitt Connection Staff Reporter

DEWITT — The Looking Glass River has long been a boon to the city of DeWitt with its scenic views and abundant wildlife, not to mention the added opportunities it offers for activities such as kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Its beauty and bounty does not come effortlessly, however.

Resident Bob Bishop served as the communications director of one such local organization, Friends of the Looking Glass Watershed Council, Inc., until his retirement last fall.

Friends of the Looking Glass (FLG for short) is a non-profit environmental action group that has been taking initiative to improve the river’s ecological health and water quality since 1990.

“The Looking Glass is a really unique, picturesque stream,” said Bishop. “Some of the stream … you can go an hour without seeing a building. It’s really wild-looking. You equate it with going up north.”

According to Bishop, recreational use of the river has grown in popularity since he moved to DeWitt 25 years ago. Business owner Beth Herendeen of Twiggies is one of many DeWitt residents who now find great value in the recreational activities the Looking Glass River offers.

“[DeWitt] just installed two kayak/canoe launches, and I do personally use the river,” said Herendeen. “We kayak it a lot. In fact, this time of year I love it the most.”

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Looking Glass Riverfront Park on Herbison Road

Gretchen Karslake of Sweetie-licious Bakery Cafe, who lived on the banks of the Looking Glass River years ago, remembers the river for its aesthetic beauty and the active community it seemed to foster.

“Living on the river was valuable, property-wise, and there was always somebody coming down canoeing or kayaking,” said Karslake. “It makes for really nice wildlife, too.”

According to Dr. Patricia Norris, a Guyer-Seevers Chair in Natural Resource Conservation and a professor of sustainability at Michigan State University, research does show that homes along waterfronts have higher values in the housing market.

However, Norris adds: this is “assuming that the river is clean and healthy.”

There are a number of potential threats to any watershed or river’s health and water quality. For the Looking Glass specifically, among its most formidable threat is that of increased sedimentation rates.

“If you get sediment entering a river, it completely changes the hydrology, changes the ecological system for the fish, and creates problems in terms of biology for the fish and plants,” said Norris.

River flow fluctuations are also an issue, and result partially from a large amount of impervious surfaces.

“This can prove problematic for a riverbed,” said Norris.

Non-point source pollution — pollution from that comes from a diffused source like an agricultural field and finds its way across a landscape, rather than a pipe or other specific source is another major potential threat that Norris links to urbanization.

“Development brings with it threats of non-point pollution and threats of storm water runoff,” among other potentially negative consequences, said Norris. “Any areas with a lot of development changes the landscape in which the river exists. When you change aspects of a system, there’s feedback so that it affects other aspects of the system.”

Understanding how these hydrological components react to the changing environment around them is essential in creating and carrying out an effective watershed and storm management plan. The 2008 Watershed Management Plan for the Upper Looking Glass River was one such plan.

Map of the Looking Glass River and Watershed; indicates the river path, river access points, and boundary lines of the watershed

Map of the Looking Glass River and Watershed; indicates the river path, river access points, and boundary lines of the watershed

The cost of carrying out the management portion of this plan was estimated at just over $1,275,000, and “the cost of implementing the information and education component of this plan [was] estimated to be $11,580.”

In 2011, data from the plan’s progress was compiled (Watershed Management Progress Report, Oct. 2008 – Sept. 2011) and reviewed.

There are a multitude of smaller-scale projects under the expansive umbrella of the Looking Glass Watershed Management Plan that seem to be ongoing, such as pushing for organic farming to lessen the amount of chemicals from fertilizers that can so easily seep into water systems.

The progress report also shows that a great deal of effort is being put into public awareness, and educating the residents of DeWitt about the importance of protecting and maintaining their community’s watershed.

Significant improvements came fairly recently in 2014 for both the city and township of DeWitt. Universally-accessible canoe/kayak launches were installed in two DeWitt parks, riverbank was restored or stabilized, and native wetland plant species were planted.

Next up on the agenda: a water trail that links the city and the township.

“If you had the rest of your life to clean up the river,” said Bishop, “you couldn’t do it. There’s too much change. But we keep on trying.”

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