Public and private representatives gathered on the Pine River in Crosslake to kick off construction of an ecological project aimed at fish health.

Construction is expected to begin this month and be completed before March 1. Beth Hippert, Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District project manager, credits successful design and funding to a strong collaborative process.

The project will replace an existing 50-year-old failing rock dam with natural stream channel riffles on the Pine River. The new design reopens fish passage access to vital upstream resources, helping to rebuild ecological health of fish and other aquatic life reliant on the Pine, feeder streams, wetlands and lakes.

Recent surveys conducted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources indicated the dam was affecting fish and mussel populations. In 2012, signs of these effects were noticeable in surveys that noted slight declines in two species of special concern and one threatened species. These species are indicators of stream health and in this case correlate to construction of the dam in 1970.

In three years, the stream will be surveyed again following a 10-year cycle set up by the MPCA to measure stream health. Based on studies of similar projects, it is expected improvements will be detected, reversing declines in sensitive fish and mussel species.

This project, unlike the rock dam, took inspiration from the river itself to restore fish passage while controlling upstream water levels in Big Pine Lake. Predictable patterns of healthy, stable stream channels were applied during design to replace the function of the dam without the environmental and ecological costs of a dam.

Five rock weirs spaced about 40 feet apart along 200 feet of the stream channel will replace the dam. The series of riffles and pools will restore natural flows, spawning habitat and in-stream cycling. Collectively, access to the habitats needed to reach reproductive age will benefit walleye, smallmouth bass, bait fish and mussels. Benefits will also extend to anglers and paddlers.

“The Pine River Fish Passage Project is the area’s hidden gem, providing many recreational, hunting and fishing opportunities," said Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Melissa Barrick. “Pine River Fish Passage Project is a great example of citizen, local government units and state of Minnesota working together to solve a complex local problem. We are grateful for the Clean Water, Land Legacy Amendment for the opportunity to address local fish habitat improvement.”

Funding for this project was provided in part by the Clean Water Land Legacy Amendment through the Lessard Sam Outdoor Heritage Council and Minnesota State Legislature.

For more information, contact tasha.lauer@crowwingswcd.org or call the SWCD at 218-828-6197.