News & Resources


Summer Spotlight: Boardman River Restoration Research Enters its 7th Year

Apr 21, 2014

Throughout April and May, we'll be releasing our 'Summer Spotlight' series featuring the research projects and teams that will be tackling some of the big questions in conservation and restoration in Northern Michigan and around the country. We start with our Boardman River Restoration Project, now in its 7th year, which is attempting to capture the recovery of aquatic wildlife post-dam removal. With dam removal initiatives sweeping North American and beyond, the data gathered on this northern Michigan stream can have far reaching implications for how, when, and where dams are removed. 


The Boardman River, with its excellent water quality and good trout fishery, has long been recognized as one of the more outstanding rivers in Northern Lower Michigan. Many of the river’s proponents have long wanted to remove several long-standing human impacts on the river, a series of four hydroelectric dams. This vision for riverine restoration has culminated in the Boardman Dam Removal Project, whose ultimate goal is to remove three of these ageing dams and restore the river’s free-flowing condition. Enter Au Sable. At the beginning of the process, Associate Director Dave Mahan realized that while there were plans to remove the dams, there was little monitoring of what effect dam removal would have on stream quality and health. At the same time, Au Sable's research program was coming into its own, providing research opportunities for students interested in continuing their education in graduate school. The confluence of these two projects have produced six years of worthwhile data gathered by a dozen different students along with their faculty mentors.

Au Sable's Research Role

For the past 6 years, a research team from Au Sable -- led by Mahan -- has assisted in this project by assessing the stream macroinvertebrates above and below the dams in the river before and after the dams are removed. This work is important to the overall project because these stream organisms are one of the best indicators of river water quality and its changes concomitant with dam removal. Among our more significant findings to date are: confirmation that, for most of the length of the Boardman, the dominant organisms are indicative of high water quality; a baseline of macroinvertebrate community information has been established from above the old Brown Bridge Pond to above Boardman Lake; we have demonstrated that reservoirs can have a negative impact on the typical riverine biota;  and, over a six-year period, we have found significant recovery of the macroinvertebrate community to a more natural state at the newly formed riffle site located above the Boardman Dam. This work suggests that removing the existing dams will likely result in a fairly rapid return of the stream to pre-disturbance conditions.

The Work Continues

The Boardman River research will enter its seventh year thanks to continued funding from the Boardman Dam Removal Project and the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited, this vital work will grow in 2014.  The Boardman River Research Team this year will consist of students Joel Betts and Annaka Scheeres from Calvin College, Casey Shoaff from Cornerstone University, Davis Guebert from Wheaton College, and Kalli Kilmer from Biola University. Associate Director Dave Mahan will again head up the effort with assistance from Au Sable professors Dan Ipollito of Anderson University and Bill Deutsch of Auburn University as well as Nathan Dorn of Florida Atlantic University.

Meet the Team

Casey Shoaff (Cornerstone University) will be entering his second year working on the Board River Restoration research team. This year, he'll be using his expertise to help lead Au Sable's study on the effects of dam removal on the Boardman River macroinvertebrate community. Casey is a recent graduate of Cornerstone University where he received a B.S. in Environmental Biology. He hopes to build off of his research experience at Au Sable this summer to pursue work in the Fisheries and Wildlife Departments for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doing stream restoration. Casey was born and raised in Traverse City, Michigan and is well-versed in the northern Michigan outdoors. Growing up he developed a love of God’s creation through hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing.

Joel Betts (Calvin College) will be participating on the Board River Restoration Research Team for his second year in a row. This year, he'll be co-leading the team as the research project enters its seventh year. Joel is a recent graduate of Calvin College (Michigan) where he is pursuing majors in Biology (with honors) and International Development Studies, with minors in Environmental Studies and Biochemistry. During summer 2012, he conducted research in agroecology at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, where he studied the effects of nitrogen fixing plants on the growth of grass species. Joel spent last fall in Honduras with the Calvin Study Abroad Program, where he investigated international development, learned Spanish, and engaged in a practicum assisting in cloud forest mammal monitoring in a Honduran national park. Joel's extracurricular work includes leading school group programs at Calvin’s ecosystem preserve and serving as co-leader of the Student Environmental Stewardship Coalition. Joel enjoys playing jazz saxophone and ice hockey, as well as backpacking, canoeing, fishing and gardening.

Kalli Kilmer (Biola University) graduated in May of 2014 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and minors in Biology and Biblical Studies. She spent last summer taking courses in Alpine Ecology and Environmental Health through Au Sable Institute at the Pacific Rim campus, which she loved. She looks forward to being part of the team researching the effects of dam removal on macroinvertebrate communities in Michigan this summer. Kalli has been the student representative on Biola’s Creation Stewardship Committee for the past three years and is a member of Biola’s Scuba Diving Club. She has interned as an environmental consultant at Cobb Engineering in her hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and has interned at the Bolsa Chica Wetland Conservancy in Huntington Beach, California. She has previous research experience at the University of Central Oklahoma where she served on a team looking at migration patterns of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by means of stabilized isotope analysis. Kalli enjoys many outdoor activities including bird watching, kayaking, hiking, camping, road cycling, gardening, but loves tide pooling more than anything.

Davis Guebert (Wheaton College) is a senior studying biology. He is excited to be joining the Boardman River Restoration Research at Au Sable this summer. Last year, Davis participated in ecological research on the relationship between a specific roundworm, Baylisascaris procynis, and raccoons. He has recently been participating in cartilage restoration research using human amniotic membrane in sheep cartilage defects. He plans to present the findings at the Southern Orthopaedic Association’s 31st Annual Meeting this summer. 

Davis has loved being a part of several organizations at Wheaton, including Honduras Project (Spring Break Water Project), Orientation Committee, Community Life Council, and Advancement Associates. When not enjoying these activities, he loves to hike and camp. Growing up with a father who is a geologist, Davis has been to most of the States west of Pennsylvania as well as most of the National Parks in those states and developed a love for God’s creation through those experiences. Davis has a long-term interest in either medicine or environmental biology (or maybe a combination of the two).

Annaka Scheeres (Calvin College) will be entering her junior year, where she is pursuing a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental Studies (with honors). She is thrilled to be joining the Boardman River Restoration Research Team this summer, studying biota recovery post-dam removal on the Boardman River. Last summer, she worked as a Summer Research Steward at Calvin’s ecosystem preserve, where she monitored breeding bird and small mammal populations. Annaka’s extracurricular work includes leading campus-wide environmental education and advocacy campaigns as Calvin’s Sustainability Intern, being an active member of Calvin’s Community Garden, and co-leading Calvin’s Student Environmental Stewardship Coalition. She is eager to join the Au Sable community and further carry out her calling as an environmental steward through integrating faith and love of creation into her scientific pursuits. In her free time, Annaka is an avid reader and amateur writer; she also enjoys long hikes, bike rides, camping trips, and afternoons spent wandering the local terrain.