CROSSLAKE — Public and private representatives recently gathered on the Pine River to kickoff construction of an ecological project aimed at fish health.

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 upstream resources helping to rebuild ecological health of fish and other aquatic life reliant on the Pine, feeder streams, wetlands and lakes, a news release stated.

Construction is expected to begin in January, with completion before March 1. 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 is expected to 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, according to Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, and benefits will also extend to anglers and paddlers.

Beth Hippert, Crow Wing SWCD project manager, credits successful design and funding to a strong collaborative process.

“Valuable input came from citizens, groups, city, county, state and federal representatives as well as agencies,” she stated in the release.

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.

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

Partners include Pine Lake Association, Crow Wing County Highway Department, city of Crosslake, DNR, Crosslake U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Technical Service Area 8 engineering.