Protecting Michigan’s Rogue River

Rogue River, MI | © Katie Rousseau

Rapid development along the Rogue River, MI has made it important that we work with communities for smart growth to protect the river | © Kaie Rousseau

The Rogue River watershed is just a short drive north of Michigan’s second largest metropolitan area, Grand Rapids. Covering a 262 square-mile drainage area, the Rogue flows south into the Grand River, which ultimately empties into Lake Michigan. As a major cold water tributary to the Grand River and its close proximity to a large population center, the Rogue River is an extremely important trout fishery resource in southern Michigan. 

The lower portion of the river, below the dam in Rockford, is fabled for its excellent steelhead runs in the late winter and early spring. The scenic and fishery values of the Rogue have resulted in more than 90 miles of the main stem and tributaries being granted “Natural Rivers” status under Michigan’s Natural Rivers Act.

It sounds like a wonderful place – and it is. That is why American Rivers teamed up with Trout Unlimited on their Home Rivers Initiative for the Rogue River three years ago to protect the river and its tributaries from the pressures of growth and development as a significant amount of land is changing from rural to urban use.

The populations of communities in the southern part of the watershed, closer to Grand Rapids, are predicted to nearly double by 2020 from their 1990 levels. Increasing development is having an impact on the river, particularly thermal stress, lack of quality habitat, and excessive sediment inputs which impairs water quality and negatively affects the health of the fishery. 

Together, we’ve been working with community leaders in the Rogue River watershed on stormwater management issues, incorporating low impact development and green infrastructure techniques, and land use planning efforts largely by reviewing and recommending changes in master plans and local codes. We’ve also held workshops for residents in the watershed to educate them on their cold water resource and how to advocate for better stormwater management and green infrastructure in their communities.

We’d like to thank The Wege Foundation for its generous support for the Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative.