The Crystal River and its associated wetlands comprise a very significant diversity of natural features. Of these, the most botanically diverse are the riverine wetlands, the river shoreline, and the emergent islands that are found at certain stretches of the river.
As I drive down County Road 675 and look at the lovely Crystal River meandering along, maybe with a curious mink snooping around by the shoreline, I can't help but realize the rarity of such a scene. With the winter snow melting away, once again, the incredible metamorphosis of winter into spring has begun, and with it, the natural world awakens. The river swells, and the wetlands become inundated as the watershed offers its steady flow of snowmelt to be cleansed and stored to nourish life. But my reverie darkens as I imagine this sheer wonderfulness being lost to a golf course, the thought of which is hideous and offensive: that this priceless remnant of our pre-settlement landscape could be destroyed by human greed.
The Crystal River and its associated wetlands comprise a very significant diversity of natural features. Of these, the most botanically diverse are the riverine wetlands, the river shoreline, and the emergent islands that are found at certain stretches of the river. Although no threatened or endangered species have been located, these areas are very significant as wetland, natural communities, and host many special plant species. Some of these are grass of parnassus, brook lobelia, wing-stemmed monkey flower, purple-fringed orchid, and the cardinal flower, unparalleled in its vivid, deep red color. The wing-stemmed monkey flower is of the same genus as the endangered, Michigan monkey flower, and is a tall, erect plant with beautiful blue, snapdragon-like flowers. These are just a few of the special plants I have located in these river habitats.
One day a few years ago, while walking in an area targeted to be golf hole #6 flanked by 31 single-family homes, I was startled by a raucous calling high up in the forest canopy. A huge bird, which was clearly a goshawk, was scolding me and flying in short bursts from tree to tree. It then proceeded to dive bomb me several times and came dangerously close. Goshawks are known to be very protective of their territory, especially if their young are close by. It was a frightening and exhilerating experience--a brush with the natural world that was/is rare and wonderful.
But, the river, with its clarity and high water quality, is a rare and treasured resource in and of itself. The hydrologic significance of the Crystal River, and the associated wetlands, can't be overstated. In my opinion, this system, which drains the Glen Lake watershed, is perhaps the single most significant characteristic of the entire area, and of the issue.
The Glen Lakes are in effect a large retention basin for the watershed, which is made up of all the springs, feeder streams and wetlands that recharge and purify the lakes. Surface water from the watershed is filtered through the adjacent floodplain and water table en route to Lake Michigan. The Crystal River and the wetlands are the watershed's "small intestine" that serves to filter out and assimilate sediments, pollutants and nutrients. The water table in this entire area is only a maximum of a few feet from the surface. If a golf course were to be plopped down in the middle of this regime, much of the system's natural filtration and flood retention capabilities would be lost.
To put this in the proper perspective, it's important to point out that the filling of the wetlands, no matter how many acres, constitutes only a small portion of the potential, cumulative impacts on this ecosystem, and, that these impacts are significant in the legal review and interpretation of the wetland fill activity, and in the permitting process.
For example, tens of thousands of cubic yards of fill would be necessary for the fairways, tees and greens, which would be spread out over approximately 50 acres of cleared land--land that had previously been in its natural state. Additional cleared land would be needed to accommodate cart paths, storage facilities, parking, homesites, and areas where vegetation height would have to be controlled to accommodate golf shots.
What is unique about this project is that many of the golf holes are surrounded by wetland. The airways, tees and greens would be constructed on what are referred to as "ridges," but which are in fact only a few feet above the water table. These ridges, in conjunction with the meandering Crystal River, comprise a unique land formation called a "wooded dune and swale complex," which is rare in Michigan. These ridges would require an enormous amount of fill to contour the fairways in a manner that would be well-drained. Golf courses must be well-drained for both surface run-off and for movement through the soil. This also illustrates why there are concerns regarding the movement of golf course chemicals through the soil to the water table, as well as over the ground into the surrounding wetlands.
The construction process is where most of the environmental damage would occur. Hundreds of trees would need to be cut with most of the stumps removed. This process alone would cause severe disruption to the existing natural community. Indeed, soil erosion and sedimentation are major considerations and require a whole separate permit and site plan. This part of the construction process is significant beacause it establishes all the contours and drainage patterns, and also the requirements for stabilizing the soil for potential erosion that could be a serious threat o the river as a result of building the bridges, the filling of riverine wetland, and from other excavation-related activity. These impacts would be unavoidable.
We have at our doorstep a "jewel" among Michigan resources. The Crystal River and the Glen Lake watershed and ecosystem exemplify the critical need to protect our natural heritage, not only or future generations, but for our sense of well being and for our inherent kinship with the natural world. It's that simple.
Return to the Index of Synapse 35, Spring Equinox 1996