An autumn scene of Bushy Falls on the Yellow Dog River near Big Bay. A popular destination for waterfall hunters in Marquette County, the falls is located in the Yellow Dog River Watershed Preserve. (Tom Buchkoe photo)

By Jim Pennell

In 1995, a dozen residents of northern Marquette County got together to talk about preserving the natural beauty of the land around the Yellow Dog River. That small group of locals has now grown into the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve (YDWP), a non-profit headquartered in Big Bay with hundreds of members all over the world.
“It started with an area of state land close to some waterfalls that was in danger of losing public access,” said Rochelle Dale, one of the founding members and YDWP’s current program administrator. “We formed the group as an effort to keep these areas in pristine condition and open to the public, not only now but in the future, so our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren could visit these areas and find them in the same condition as when we enjoyed them.”
The YDWP uses education and resource monitoring to keep watershed areas clean and accessible. Through private donations and grant funding, it also acquires land which is set aside as wilderness preserves. The organization works alongside companies that harvest natural resources, and together, they find ways to use the land for everyone’s benefit.
“We may be perceived as anti-logging or anti-mining, but it’s only in regard to how these industries were negatively impacting the river and the watershed,” said Dale. “In the past, there were very few regulations concerning logging or mining, and there was damage to rivers and streams because we didn’t know the end result. Regulations are much better these days, and everyone is now doing a much more conscientious job.”
Chauncey Moran is the YDWP chairman and has also been involved since its inception, but his love for rivers started long before that. “That’s what I did as a kid,” Moran said. “I grew up walking along the water and coming home all dirty and muddy. I’ve traveled around to a lot of places in the world, and there’s truly no place like northern Marquette County. It’s a sense of place, a different attitude that overcomes you. It’s not your importance as an individual but your responsibility to the world around you.”
Moran is known as “The River Walker,” and he frequently takes groups to the Yellow Dog to do just that. He leads hikes along the river and educates people on the importance of what they’re seeing there.
“A lot goes on up there and I’m humbled by the opportunity to be out there and telling stories. But I don’t want people going home and re-telling my stories. I want them to have their own stories,” he said
Monitoring is a crucial part of the YDWP’s mission. “We monitor both the Yellow Dog and the Salmon Trout river[s] with ten sites on the Yellow Dog and eight on the Salmon Trout,” Dale said. “We’re checking the bugs and the pH and the oxygen levels, but we’re also doing a physical check, too. We keep a record of each site to make sure the water clarity and the river bottom remain consistent at each site.
If we find evidence of more sedimentation than usual, it indicates that something has happened upstream, and that leads us on a search for the source, and we then work to remediate the problem. We rely heavily on volunteers for that and also for our land-monitoring program. We have a little over 1,300 acres we have either acquired or [that have] been donated to us, and we go out twice a year to walk the perimeters and make sure everything is OK.”
The YDWP has regular board meetings throughout the year at their office in Big Bay. Once a year, they hold an Annual Meeting, open to both their members and the public, at a more central location. This year’s meeting will be Wednesday, Nov. 7, from 6-9 p.m. at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette, but it’s more of a gathering than a meeting.
“We try and make it a celebration as well as a fundraiser,” said Dale. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic River Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, and a four mile stretch of the Yellow Dog River was designated as a Wild River back in 1991. We’ll be celebrating that by showing a film about Wild and Scenic Rivers. In the spring of this year we were awarded a grant from The River Network and Patagonia for creating a story map which highlights the Wild and Scenic portion of the Yellow Dog. We’ll also be there to answer any questions people might have about the Wild and Scenic River Act.”
There will also be a silent auction, food and live music by Everything Under The Sun. Suggested donation is $5, and all funds raised will help defray the operating costs of the YDWP. There are also ways to help out if you can’t make the meeting. Financial and land donations are accepted, and you can find more information about these donations on the YDWP website: yellowdogwatershed.org. Donations of time are always appreciated; volunteer opportunities range from water monitoring to film editing and graphic design.
Money and time help to get things done, but the best way to preserve our wild lands and rivers and make a change is through education on the individual level. Moran summed it up best: “Ignorance is the enemy. It isn’t the logging companies, it isn’t the corporate landowners, it isn’t the mining companies. It’s ignorance. If people knew what was out there that needed to be preserved and gave it sustainability when interacting with the land, whether in forestry or building a camp or digging a mine, it would be a different world. There are iconic places in every country of the world, and they need to be preserved so people have an understanding of what the Creator intended. Sustainability is what was intended, not subduing.
Subduing is, ‘Shoot everything you can, dig up everything you can and cut down everything you can and leave a little bit so you have a place to visit called a park.’ Sustainability is thinking of what will happen in the future, not what to do now.”
The Yellow Dog Watershed Preserved gathering is sure to offer attendees an education on sustainability, plus good conversation, a movie, live music and an auction. And it is at the Ore Dock, so there’s a good chance that beer will be available… What more could you want for an enjoyable evening?

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