Abandoned gravel quarry in a Michigan state park will be re-mined to restore the ecology

The Island Lake Recreation Area is a 4000-acre park in Livingston County, Michigan. It’s billed as a place where families can have an “up north” experience without leaving southeast Michigan.

The terrain is a mixture of open brush land to mature hardwood forest, with some pockets of open meadows mixed in.

Island Lake is the only hot-air balloon port in the state park system. Balloons usually take off in the early morning or late evening, depending on the wind and weather.

Not all of the park is beautiful, however.

About 540 acres of the park comprises an abandoned gravel quarry (pictured at top). When they closed down, the mining company left behind old spoil piles and mining debris for taxpayers to clean up (as mining companies traditionally do.)

But state officials found a way to avoid that taxpayer expense. As a result of a mineral lease signed with Spring Mill Reclamation, LLC on May 10, 2018, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can move forward on a long-awaited effort to improve and restore that significant portion of Island Lake State Recreation Area.

Spring Mill Reclamation will re-mine the gravel, but do so in a way that leaves the entire area in a restored condition.

Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said the 10-year lease will facilitate the restoration of the site’s native grassland habitat that will benefit grassland-dependent songbirds and other wildlife species. The project includes the removal of mining debris, sand and gravel to make way for the ultimate restoration of a mix of hilly and flat terrain, primarily planted for native prairie.

This restoration project has been on the horizon since 2014 when we began looking into creative ways to fund this cleanup and enhancement at Island Lake State Recreation Area,” said Olson. “The DNR is proud to have the opportunity to improve and expand access to public outdoor recreation opportunities in southern Michigan through this agreement.

As part of the transaction, the DNR also will acquire a gift of an approximately 155-acre land parcel that will expand the footprint of Pinckney Recreation Area in Washtenaw County.

The property—known as the Cunningham tract—is located on M-52 in Lyndon Township north of Chelsea is located within the Pinckney Recreation Area that connects to the Waterloo Recreation Area and Washtenaw County’s Park Lyndon.

The Cunningham tract is a parcel rich with natural resources value, including oak hickory forest, the third-highest hill (elevation) in Washtenaw County, and interesting “kettle and kame” (shallow areas and hills) topography formed by slowly melting glaciers. This land will be used exclusively for the expansion and enhancement of outdoor recreation opportunities for park visitors.

Both the reclamation project and new parcel of public land were made possible by this nonmetallic minerals lease between the DNR and Spring Mill Reclamation.

Mark Sweatman, director of the DNR Office of Minerals Management, said that under the lease, it is anticipated that Spring Mill Reclamation, LLC will mine nearly 10 million tons of aggregate from the Island Lake site.

In turn, the DNR is expected to receive royalty payments approaching $10 million – funds that will be deposited into the Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund for use in creating and expanding future outdoor recreation options within the state.

The lease will enable the DNR to reclaim a significant part of Island Lake State Recreation Area that once was a mining site and restore it to healthy grassland habitat that will attract a variety of wildlife and expand outdoor recreation opportunities,” Sweatman said.

The possibility of a reclamation project initially was discussed at a July 2014 public meeting in Green Oak Township, and the mining permit was approved by the township at another public meeting in December 2015. After an RFP (request for proposal) process, Spring Mill Reclamation, LLC received the lease.

All photos courtesy of Michigan DNR.

See Island Lake Recreation Area website.

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