Grayling Stormwater Project Leads the Way for Small Communities

Grayling Stormwater Project Leads the Way for Small Communities

By Chris Grubb, National Wildlife Federation

Steve Southard considers the Au Sable River in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula one of the finest rivers east of the Mississippi. He’s not alone. It was along the banks of this gem near Grayling, Michigan that one of the United States’ most respected conservation organizations, Trout Unlimited, was formed. In addition to providing world class trout fishing, the Au Sable River is home to an annual canoe race, as well as scenery and wildlife that define Michigan’s “Up North.”

The tremendous natural resources found in northern Michigan, like the Au Sable, are often compared to the goose that laid the golden egg. A spokesperson for the Grayling Chamber of Commerce attributes at least 60 percent, and possibly up to 80 or 90 percent, of the city’s economic activity to tourism. Much of that tourism is driven by the Au Sable. So it’s no surprise that Steve,local conservation groups,city leaders,and others saw fit to deal with an issue that could damage the Au Sable: stormwater pollution.

A Big Goal
After an initial study on the impacts of stormwater from the city of Grayling on the Au Sable River, the Grayling Stormwater Project was born. Local partners set an impressive goal. They aimed to retrofit the city’s stormwater system using low impact development techniques to reduce the amount of stormwater reaching drains by 80 percent.Of the remaining stormwater that did reach the drains, they intended to use best management practices like oil/grit separators to treat the stormwater before it reached the river.

Anyone who has embarked on a fundraising campaign knows it’s critical to have an arm twister on board. Steve Southard, the proprietor of a local fly fishing shop in Grayling (the Fly Factory), was in a fortuitous position to rally conservation groups in the area and around the state behind the effort. About half a dozen chapters of Trout Unlimited, along with groups like the “Trout Bum Bar-B-Q” and the Michigan Fly Fishing Club, answered the call raising $120,000. With a team that now included financial and in-kind contributions from the City, the local Chamber of Commerce, the non-profit Huron Pines, and others, the group was able to secure funding from the state’s Clean Michigan Initiative. Even the Michigan Department of Transportation has gotten in the act, contributing $90,000 to mitigate for runoff from a nearby highway.

Construction for the project began in September 2005. Taking a page from communities in the western United States, the project leaders targeted right-of-ways along residential city streets as ideal spots for rain gardens. In Phase I of the project, 86 rain gardens were installed and have been planted with shrubs and perennial flowers. In addition to the rain gardens, the project leaders have purchased and installed seven Vortechnic oil/grit separators to treat the remaining stormwater that does reach the pipes before it enters the Au Sable.

The Snowball Effect
The final phases of the project will be completed this year. But before the project is even finished, Brad Jenson, Executive Director of Huron Pines in Grayling, is thrilled with the feedback he’s getting from other communities in northern Michigan. Brad has been approached by local government officials and residents in a number of other communities in the area about initiating similar projects. The part that Brad particularly loves is that none of these communities in northeast Michigan are large enough to qualify as “Phase II” communities – those that have to meet stormwater standards established by the U.S. EPA. That means the communities can see the benefits of finding innovative ways to deal with stormwater that will protect the area’s famed waterways and strengthen local economies, all without being told to do it!

To learn more and watch a video about the Grayling Stormwater Project, visit

For more information:
Chris Grubb, National Wildlife Federation
PH: 734-769-3351 • FX: 734-769-1449



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