Bad River Watershed Association

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Welcome to the Bad River Watershed Association

Started in 2002 by a group of local dedicated citizens, the Bad River Watershed Association was formed as a non-profit to promote a healthy relationship between the people and natural communities of the Bad River watershed by involving all citizens in assessing, maintaining and improving watershed integrity for future generations.

The Bad River Watershed (BRW) drains over 1,000 square miles along Wisconsin’s north shore. The headwaters are found in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The lower one-third of the watershed is land of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribes of Chippewa Indians Reservation. Small, rural communities including Mellen, Odanah, Gurney, Mason, Grand View, Delta and Marengo are scattered throughout the watershed. The Kakagon Slough/Bad River Slough, located at the mouth of the watershed on Lake Superior, is the largest and possibly most pristine freshwater estuary remaining on Lake Superior and is the only remaining extensive coastal wild rice wetland in the Great Lakes Basin. The Bad River watershed is home to sturgeon spawning grounds, pristine coldwater trout streams, prime wolf and habitat, and many more outstanding plant, fish and wildlife communities.

Connecting People, Land, and Water

Bad River Watershed Association Awarded 229K for Fish Passage Restoration

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), through the Sustain Our Great Lakes Program, has awarded $229,160 to the Bad River Watershed Association (BRWA) for stream restoration projects.

Sustain Our Great Lakes is a public-private partnership that supports habitat restoration throughout the Great Lakes basin. A significant portion of program funding is provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a federal program designed to protect, restore and enhance the Great Lakes ecosystem.

This year, 20 organizations were awarded a total $5.7 million in funding for Great Lakes restoration projects. BRWA was one of four organizations in Wisconsin to receive funding. This funding will allow BRWA to work with local towns and counties to carry out stream restoration projects, including the replacement of five road/stream crossing culverts. The new culverts will improve passage for native fish such as brook trout, and also reduce road washouts and sedimentation during high flows The focus of these projects is to reconnect cold water streams that have been cut off by improperly installed, undersized or failing culverts. Brook trout and other cold water species require the full reach of streams for successful long-term spawning, and for access to colder water when sections of streams become too warm.

Climate and water temperature modeling studies have indicated that climate change may cause the lower reaches of many streams in the Bad River watershed to become too warm for cold water species in coming decades. Because of this, reconnection of fish passage to cold headwater sources has become an increasingly important restoration priority.

BRWA was previously awarded a NFWF grant for a culvert restoration project on Fred's Creek on North York Road in Ashland Township. This project is scheduled for completion later this summer. Since beginning the Culvert Program in 2005, BRWA and its partners have reconnected over 25 miles of stream habitat in the watershed.


BRWA Receives Grant from Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation

We are excited to announce that BRWA recently received a grant of over $3,000 from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation as part of their Four Cedars Environmental Fund. We are honored to have been chosen as a recipient of this grant, which "was established to provide financial incentives that initiate, stimulate, enrich, and assist programs and organizations involved in the protection, preservation, and education of the unique natural resources found primarily within the Western Lake Superior Watershed."

This grant has made it possible for us to begin to establish nutrient and bacteria baseline values in waters within the Bad River watershed potentially impacted by the proposed CAFO in Bayfield County. We are currently monitoring for total phosphorus, total nitrogen, total suspended solids, and coliform bacteria. BRWA is also monitoring a site in Iron County with a similar potential impact from agriculture. The grant also includes support for community outreach, which is a critical component in the protection of natural resources.

The Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation funded BRWA projects and outreach in past years as well. Their commitment to the Lake Superior watershed is an inspiration, and we can't thank them enough for their vision and generosity.

To learn more about this wonderful organization, visit


Culvert Project Assists with Fish Passage

Check out this article from the August 8, 2015 edition of the Ashland Daily Press about our most recent culvert restoration project, on Wildcat Rd. Thanks to everyone who made the project and its news coverage a reality!


Young Stewards

As a BRWA staff member, the most enjoyable and fulfilling work includes getting out in the watershed to do fieldwork, as well as education and outreach. It's hard to imagine a better way to spend the day than doing all of those things at once. This past month was rich with such opportunities. BRWA participated in a water quality workshop on the Potato River with 30 students from Red Cliff and Bad River as part of an Indigenous Arts and Sciences program on July 15th, and then hosted a similar workshop for nine members of Sparta's High School Earth Club on the Tyler Forks on July 18th.

Indigenous Arts and Sciences is a function of the UW Arboretum's Earth Partnership program. Staff from the UW Arboretum and Bad River Natural Resources Department (BRNRD) were among those that helped instruct at the event. Mariana, BRWA Volunteer Coordinator, teamed up with BRNRD to teach water chemistry monitoring techniques using the LaMotte water quality kits used by BRWA volunteers. Naomi Tillison of BRNRD showed the participants how to use a meter to gather a number of different water quality parameters. BRNRD also did a demonstration with a FlowTracker, and explained how streamflow information coupled with chemistry data can be useful by showing how much of a given substance or pollutant is being discharged from a waterbody over time.

Tony Janisch, BRWA Executive Director, helped lead the aquatic invertebrate section of the workshop. The participants collected bugs using D-nets, and then looked at the live specimens and practiced identifying them. The group engaged in discussions about the habitat and water quality requirements of the specific types of invertebrates, and how this information is used to guide decisions about our water resources.


The Earth Club of Sparta, WI High School is longtime member of the Bad River Watershed Association. Though Sparta may be hours away from the Bad River watershed, this group has made it a habit to treat the world the way they would their own backyard. They have spearheaded a successful recycling program in their community, and use the proceeds to support conservation efforts they care deeply about. This includes arctic conservation and solutions to climate change, the work of the Bad River Watershed Association, and more recently, Save the Boundary Waters. The leader of Earth Club is Joe Cook, who teaches German at Sparta High School. He has a social and sentimental connection to the Chequamegon Bay area. He passes on his stewardship ethic and care of the Great Lakes to his students by teaching them about issues facing the region and leading them on field trips to visit this special place. They always make a stop at Waverly Beach to visit Joe Rose, retired professor of Native American Studies at Northland College and Bad River Tribal Elder.

The Earth Club water quality monitoring workshop took place on the Tyler Forks at the end of Moore Park Road. The group was interested in this spot because of its proximity to the previously proposed GTac mine and the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Education Learning Project Camp. It is also a scenic and excellent place to get in the water and enjoy the natural beauty of this trout stream. To combat the bugs, a screen tent was set up for several hours to act as a temporary "field station" as the students looked at invertebrate samples and practiced chemistry monitoring. Following the workshop, the Sparta Earth Club presented BRWA with a donation, which will be used to fund our volunteer water quality monitoring program.

We'd like to thank everyone that participated in or helped organize these events. The future of our resources and the planet are in the capable hands of these truly optimistic and creative youth, and one can't help but feel inspired. Experiences like this are a big reason we do what we do!


Waterfalls of Iron County

BRWA members and friends went in search of some of the lesser known and harder-to-find waterfalls in the Iron County side of the watershed on Sunday, May 17th. Twenty-five adventurous souls split into groups of 4 to 6 and trekked through sometimes rugged, periodically muddy, but spectacularly lovely terrain.

Rain pounded down as we drove to our varied starting points but backed down to a light mist as we arrived.  Blue bead lilies, trout lilies, trillium and wild leeks carpet the forest floors. We had to step on a few as we wound into the woods to avoid deep puddles on some trails.

Foster Falls on the Potato River blasted over the rock face, and we pretended the mist in the air was spray from the waterfall.  There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad gear.  All came prepared wearing rain jackets and DEET.

The drive up the hill to Ren Falls on the Tyler Forks River has improved greatly in past years. Unfortunately, upgrades allow easier access for logging equipment, and the loggers moved in last week to cut a large swath of the forest along the trail.  Muddy rivulets ran into brown ponds on the downhill side of the road.  But the road held and took us safely to the trailhead.

At the top of the trail, we found Ren Falls gushing.  Lest you think the ‘W’ was left off in error, here is the story of ‘Ren Vought.’  According to his grandson, ‘Ren Vought came to northern Wisconsin in the 1800's.  Worked as a Timber Cruiser and various other jobs in the lumber camps.  Later on in life he became a camp cook and perhaps experimented with moonshine a little I was told...His son Clarence worked in the a youngster I can remember him working with horses in the woods...later on Clarence worked on the ore boats.  Ren Vought Falls and Vought Road...(the name has been spelled wrong on the sign as Vogues) were named after Ren as was Ren Vought's bluff on (County Road) GG.....Ren's real name was Lorenzo...but shortened by all who knew him to Ren... ‘

While the landscape is not pretty following a cutover, Iron County’s forested land is what provides free access to these falls for all. The sustainable harvest of timber is also the largest revenue source in Iron County, adding $1.5 million to the general fund each year and tens of l thousands in payments to each of the affected towns.  The waterfalls we visited are almost all in the Town of Anderson where the majority of the land is county forest.

At the end of the logging road is beautiful Rouse Falls on Rouse Creek which flows to Erickson Creek before feeding the Tyler Forks River on its journey to Copper Falls State Park in Mellen where it joins the Bad River in flowing to Lake Superior.















We moved on to Rouse Falls and a slightly (?)  muddy walk on another well-used logging road.


The muddy, buggy walk was well worth it to see this amazing waterfall.  Thanks Mike Mertes for this photo of Rouse Falls.

Rouse Falls provided a great opportunity to practice ‘the black fly wave.’  Thanks Sarah Boles!

At the end of Moore Park Road, a trail leads upstream to the cascading waters flowing through the Tyler Forks gorge.

The sun peeked out just long enough to highlight the water and elicit big smiles from these hikers.

Back at our meeting place in the Upson Town Park and Upson Falls, rain began again in earnest as we brushed off the mud, waved away the bugs and headed for home.  If looking the right direction, you would have seen the rainbow.

Some comments from those who attended:

Thanks for a great day. ~Jean

We loved the wonderful adventure you took us on. Thank you --Vivianne and Larry

Yes indeed! A fine day on the planet. Thank one and all who dreamed, planned, tramped, mapped, made signs, banged them in and then invited our fine community along for the fun!    --Andy

Beautiful day, wonderful company and great scenery.  Even getting stuck wasn't unpleasant. – Mike

Ditto on all the remarks. Next time an earlier hike with a pot luck would be fun to be able to visit with everyone. Cheers --Sarah & Adrian


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