TRAVERSE CITY — Retired physician Bill McCool stopped to gaze at the dry creek bed running through a landscape of greenery and young trees at Munson Medical Center.
“I was just admiring the nice crop of weeds here,” McCool quipped.
They’re not weeds, protested Steve Largent, program coordinator for the Grand Traverse Conservation District.
“These plants are all native to this area,” he said. “None are invasives.”
Indeed, the natural look is the aim of the Kids Creek restoration project at Munson Medical Center.
Munson decided to reroute and “daylight” the creek as part of its plan to build a new cancer center. The project is expected to cost just over $2 million and ultimately will divert water that now flows through 900 feet of straight channels and underground culverts to a 1,275-foot meandering stream.
“We’re trying to recreate what the stream would have looked like 150 years ago,” said Steve Tongue, Munson Medical Center’s vice president of facilities.
Funding has come from state and federal grants, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, and other donations.
Consumers Energy Foundation officials recently toured the creek with a $50,000 donation in hand.
Sarah U’Ren of The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay said she was “honestly skeptical” when she heard about Munson’s proposal to reroute the stream as part of its building plan.
“But when I heard what they wanted to do, I said, ‘Wow, this is going to be great,’” said U’Ren, who works closely with Munson officials on the project. “They could have kept the channel underground and just diverted more sections underground, so this is a gesture that they’re really trying to do the right thing. They went the route that’s more difficult, more expensive.”
U’Ren said the more difficult route will mean a big improvement for fish, which tend to backslide from culverts; there’s no place to rest or spawn and nothing to eat. The new stream will also better handle flooding.
“This is the first daylighting steam project in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed,” she said. “You don’t hear it happening a lot in urban areas. We’re hoping it can receive national recognition.”
The American Rivers, a nonprofit, is doing a case study on the project. The restoration is part of a larger effort to restore Kids Creek and remove it from the state’s impaired waters list, she said.
Much of the creek work at Munson is done. The new stretch of river bed is dug, the bottom shaped unevenly, and covered with gravel. “Root wads” or cedar stumps were placed at bends in the creek to knock down the stream energy. Maple trees were planted for shade to keep the fish cool. And two bridge spans were installed on Sixth Street and Beaumont Place.
Now the creek bed just needs water.
That will happen in late September when the vegetation is well established and prior to spawning season. Fish will be stunned momentarily in the old creek before they’re netted and transferred to the new creek.
“Children might be asked to help out, since it is called Kids Creek,” Largent said.
Tongue said the new stream and park will be nice for the neighborhood and also benefit cancer center patients. They can enjoy the view of a new healing garden as they get chemotherapy.
“It’s part of the patient experience we’re trying to create,” he said.