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A project to restore the Dowagiac River's natural bends and curves is underway on Pokagon land

An aerial photo taken during the day of a wide river bend added to the Dowagiac River surrounded by green trees
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Department of Natural Resources

The tribe says the work will benefit natural habitats and help prevent flooding.

The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi has made progress on a project that aims to bring back the natural curves of the Dowagiac River, which were straightened by settlers in the early 1900s. More bends mean a slower-moving river, with better natural habitats for both aquatic and non-aquatic wildlife.

The Pokagon Band also wants to restore floodplains removed in the early 20th century. Pokagon Band Director of Natural Resources Jennifer Kanine says the project will not only help wildlife, but also the local community.

“It benefits everybody, it doesn't just benefit the wildlife that's in the water, it benefits the wildlife that's out of the water and benefits the people in the surrounding community,” she said.

An aerial photo of an under construction bend of the Dowagiac River, a small sliver of the river goes through the bend, with other parts partially flooded by river water
Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Department of Natural Resources
An under construction portion of the Dowagiac River, taken on June 17, 2022

The Pokagon Band will relink the river with over 50 acres of wetlands, with the wetlands acting like a sponge, filtering out pollution and sediments.

These changes are expected to increase flood storage, lessening potential damage caused by a flood.

“We could help prevent some of those issues that we see in areas where rivers are disconnected from their floodplains and the floodwaters, when they get to a certain point, they spill out and they're damaging people's homes,” Kanine said.

The restored bends and curves will nearly double the river's total length on Pokagon land. The tribe aims to finish the project by the spring of next year.

Report for America national service program corps member Michael Symonds joined WMUK’s staff in 2023. He covers the “rural meets metro” beat, reporting stories that link seemingly disparate parts of Southwest Michigan.