The rich history of the St. Marys River includes developments like locks for shipping, hydro-electric power generation, “compensating works” which assist in managing Lake Superior water levels, also industry including steel and pulp and paper mills. These developments cover a brief span of time. Historical perspective is needed to achieve a deeper understanding of the waterway.
Many people might not realize that at one time, fish were so abundant in the rapids that this outlet to Lake Superior became the site of huge regional gatherings of Anishinaabe – Ojibway. Now, the entire river flows through some kind of man-made structure and it is difficult to realize the importance of this area as both a sustainable source for food and a cultural meeting point.
For many years, work has been ongoing to restore benefits associated with the river. This is not limited to activities like fishing but also includes work to clean up industrial pollution. The St. Marys River flows between two nations so these efforts have been “Binational”, coordinated through the St. Marys River Remedial Action Plan, or cleanup plan. An attendent public committee has advocated for and achieved progress on cleanup over almost three decades and is comprised of residents of both Michigan and Ontario. Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, also Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Lake Superior State University and Algoma University are all strong supporters of river cleanup.
A new video produced by Michigan’s Issue Media Group and released March 13th by the Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) highlights efforts to make the St. Marys River swimmable, fishable and drinkable. The video centres on The Little Rapids Restoration Project, reestablishing flow to the Little Rapids section of the river for the first time in more than 50 years. This work is expected to lead to both environmental and economic benefits such as improved habitat for native fish populations, revitalized tourism and sport fishing opportunities on the river, and better community access via a new pedestrian walkway at Sugar Island.
Mike Ripley represents the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority and is featured in the St. Marys video. “This area, the area where Lake Superior flowed into the St. Marys River over the Big Rapids [further upstream near the outlet of Superior], was a very important place to the Native people of the area because of the incredible abundance of fish and wildlife that was available,” Ripley said. “Thanks to the restoration work here, we hope to see more opportunities for fishing for all people and for future generations. Restoration of the Little Rapids is something people can truly be proud of.”
The GLC implements its restoration work through a regional partnership with NOAA, in close coordination with local, state and federal partners.