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Northern Michigan in Focus: Brown Bridge Tree Planting

After the Brown Bridge Dam’s removal on the Boardman River about four years ago a huge swath of soggy land was left behind.

While Mother Nature can take care of herself, she’s getting some help from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and others to help spread some green.

Michelle Dunaway and Corey Adkins caught up with them for this week’s Northern Michigan in Focus.

 “A couple times year we’ve been bringing Grand Traverse Band membership and staff and students out here so they can plant in the bottom lands of Brown Bridge and they can actually be part of the restoration process,” says Frank Dituri, ecologist for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

When the Brown Bridge Dam in Grand Traverse County was removed in 2013 it left a big reservoir of mud and muck, but through all that muck and mud nature rejuvenates.

 “For this phase, let’s watch and see what comes back because there’s 100-year-old seed bank that still exist. The seeds are folded down through the water and wound up in those mucky soils in the bottom and have been there submerged, so you remove the water and expose them to sunlight there, and sunlight brings the energy and explodes in the valley, so you can actually see in the last few years growth is beyond what we ever imagined,” explains Frank.

But it never hurts to help. Last Thursday, on a very windy day, members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians did just that.

 “So today there are 250 black spruce, 400 red dogwood, there’s tamarack that are going in and some ninebark and serviceberry. The idea is to plant native species that come from areas locally and plant them along the river so we can accelerate that process,” says Frank.

The river means a lot to them.

“The river in the water represents our women and everything. They are the keepers of the water, because so much of their life cycles around the water and the way it flows, and that’s what we were so happy about with this project with them cleaning up this river and then putting it back to where it used to be where it flowed,” says Pat Putney.

Pat is a Grand Traverse Band elder. She believes in the four sacred medicines of her tribe to help heal the river.

“One is cedar, one is sweet grass, sage and tobacco and when we’re planting these trees here along the river and all that, then we had some of our tobacco and stuff with that and have good thoughts and say our prayers for the success. Because this is spring, spring is new beginnings. New beginnings for us and even the plant world. And that’s why the planting is being done here along the river,” explains Pat.

Even the youngest help.

 “All. It’s awesome to have the youth group out here, and we saw a family show up with a five or six folks out here, that’s awesome. Think of their connection to the Earth beneath their feet and to have them come out to a project, a restoration process, and really be part of it, that’s just immensely important,” explains Frank.

Mary from the tribe adds, “I love the Earth and I love the fact that we’re trying to do something that will help regenerate the river and get it back to its original flow, where it used to be.”