Dam structure upgrades underway at Backus Creek State Game Area

Contact: Keith Fisher, 989-275-5151, ext. 2722031
Agency: Natural Resources

Sept. 15, 2020

Dam structure upgrades underway at Backus Creek State Game Area

Visitors to the Backus Creek State Game Area in Roscommon County, Michigan, will notice increased activity now that work has resumed on structural improvements to two dams. The work began last summer but had been paused due to a number of unexpected delays, including heavy rainfall that limited site access, contractor commitments to other DNR projects, winter shutdown and the challenge of finding qualified workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the upgrades are completed:

  • The Backus Lake dam (installed in 1937) will have a larger water control structure, both to accommodate high water levels during heavy rain and to allow Department of Natural Resources equipment to easily cross for work on habitat projects.
  • The Backus Creek dam (installed in 1956) will have structural improvements, such as concrete repairs, an improved walkway and replacement of stoplogs (the hydraulic engineering elements that control water levels).

The original water control structures and dikes were installed to create high-quality habitat for waterfowl (Canada geese, mallard ducks, etc.) and furbearers (beaver, otter, etc.), as well as recreation opportunities for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Over time, though, the structures have aged; recent inspections showed that both structures were due for upgrades. The completed renovations will help ensure this area can continue to offer the same opportunities, while enhancing the DNR’s ability to safely control water levels of flooded areas, said Keith Fisher, a wildlife biologist who works out of the DNR’s Roscommon office.

“Controlling and maintaining water levels allow us to enhance waterfowl and wetland habitat, while providing opportunities for recreationalists to enjoy hunting, fishing, canoeing, trapping and bird watching,” he said.

Lower water levels during construction

In order to complete these repairs, the Backus Lake, Backus Creek and Little Mud Lake floodings must be significantly lowered during construction. Only the normal flow of the Backus Creek will move through the projects during that time.

Water level drawdowns of the three floodings began in August 2019 after wetland permits were issued by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Construction activities have begun and will continue throughout the fall and winter, weather permitting. Construction is estimated to be completed in spring 2021; however, in order to maximize the benefit to wildlife during these projects, the water intentionally will be held at a low level throughout the summer and will be reflooded in time for waterfowl season in early fall.

How will the public be affected?

The Backus Creek State Game Area will remain open during the dam construction projects. Visitors can expect to see extremely low water levels. Access to dams, dikes and parking areas will be reduced or restricted throughout construction. This will include access to the maintenance walkway across the top of the dams that many people have used to get to additional state-managed public land.

This fall, waterfowl hunters should expect the area to look different – especially the changed water levels – so it’s a good idea to scout the area before hunting.

Visitors also may experience some noise disruption and construction traffic. The primitive boating ramp will be open for use, but the flooding’s water drawdown likely will limit the areas where boaters can maneuver until fall 2021, when the water level is restored.

To get more information about the planned Backus Creek State Game Area dam construction project, contact local DNR wildlife biologists Keith Fisher, 989-275-5151, ext. 2722031 or Mark Boersen, 989-275-5151, ext. 2722031.

Learn more about all of Michigan's state wildlife/game areas and the recreation opportunities available.

Backus Creek State Game Area dam: Renovation work on dam structures at Backus Creek State Game Area, located in Roscommon County, has resumed. Visitors to the area will notice increased activity and lower water levels in the flooding areas.