Come celebrate the St Mary’s River and Great Lakes Restoration success in the Upper Peninsula!

Completion of the Little Rapids Project marks the progress in restoring key St. Mary’s River habitat.

This time last year, the Sugar Island causeway was a major construction site where a multi-million-dollar Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project was underway. The project’s goal was to restore critically important rapids habitat to the St. Mary’s River while repairing two failing culverts along the causeway. With money from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the committed work of a large number of community, state and federal partners, the culverts were replaced with a 625-foot bridge that now allows the river to flow again. Sand and silt that had been building up for decades has already washed away and beautiful rocky habitat is now exposed.

Habitat loss

The old Sugar Island causeway, which connected the Sugar Island Ferry to the main island, was an aging structure that had blocked a portion of the river slowing flow for several decades. This is just one of many habitat alterations that led to the loss of over 90 percent of rapids habitat in the St. Mary’s River. Rapids in the river serve a critical purpose as spawning habitat for native fish including Lake Whitefish and Lake Sturgeon. 

Celebrating success

On June 10, 2017, community members, in partnership with Michigan Sea Grant and MSU Extension, will celebrate the completion of the project with a community event. The event will take place 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Rotary Park and Sugar Island, 1425 Riverside Drive, Sault St. Marie, Mich. It includes a free fish boil lunch with local lake whitefish donated by Wilcox Fisheries. In addition, free pedestrian ferry rides will allow visits to the restoration site. At the site, enjoy a self-guided walking tour on the bridge where volunteers describe many of the features of the bridge and the ecology of the river. Also a family event geared toward youth age 9-14 called the “Life of the River.” Families will get a chance to try activities such as a standup paddle board and learn to fish as part of the DNRs Free Fishing Weekend. The entire event is free and open to all.

Schedule of events

  • Little Rapids Activities
    11:30 a.m.– 12:30 p.m.: Fish boil lunch and sponsors tables
    12:30 p.m.– 3 p.m.: Free rides on the Sugar Island Ferry! (Pedestrians only. Fees still apply for cars). 
    12:30 p.m.– 3 p.m.: Little Rapids Bridge Walking Tour. Tables will be set up along the bridge where you can learn about the project and the river ecosystem.
    12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.: Life of the River Youth Activities (Pre-registration required) 
  • Additional Activities
    12:30 p.m.– 3 p.m.: Bishop Baraga Church Open House
    12:30 p.m.– 3 p.m.: Aquatic Research Lab Open House
    All day: Hike at a Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserve or Voyageur Island!

Please note that children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian during all activities. Registration is appreciated but not required for the fish boil and open walking tour. These events are for children and adults of all ages. Registration is required for the Life of the River youth activities. Life of the River event is suggested for families with children age 9-14.

Please register online at  by June 9, 2017.

This event and restoration project is made possible by funds from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and is realized through the hard work of the Eastern Upper Peninsula Regional Planning And Development Commission, Lake Superior State University, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, Bay Mills Indian Community Biological Services, Chippewa County Road Commission,  St. Mary’s Bi-national Public Advisory Council, Great Lakes Commission, Michigan DNR, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality  Office of the Great Lakes, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Learn more

Read more about the project, including map of area: Putting back the (Little) Rapids: River restoration in the Saint Marys Area of Concern

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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