MUSKEGON COUNTY, Mich. — A $2.5 million federal grant paid for fish and wildlife habitat improvements at Muskegon County's Veterans Memorial Park. The work started in 2014, and it's expected to finish this summer. 

Some of the money was used to remove a dam and pump that for years regulated water in the park's pond. With the dam and pump gone, fish can once again swim freely between the Muskegon River and the pond. And that makes the park more vulnerable to seasonal flooding.

"This year is so much worse," said Melissa Tretheway, of Whitehall. It's the second year in a row water from the Muskegon River has filled the pond so significantly that plaques with the names of veterans, including four of Trethway's uncles, have been underwater.

"It's a slap in the face of our veterans," Tretheway said.

North Muskegon resident Scott McNeil passes the park twice a day. In recent days long sections of the park's sidewalks have been underwater and two bridges to the park's island are also flooded.

"You won't be able to get to that without hip boots," McNeil said. 

He wants the county to bring the dam and pump back to the park. "Pile some dirt up and stick the pump in there and we are good to go again," he said.

Any new blockage of the connection between the pond and Muskegon River would defeat the intended goal of the habitat project. The park's original design didn't include a dam. It also was in a state of disrepair according to
Kathy Evans, Environmental Program Manager at West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission.

"It was rusted out and very easily could have failed under high water conditions like this," said Evans. 

The project removed cattails and other tall invasive plants from the edge of the park's ponds. Sludge from the bottom of the ponds was dug out and removed. And the project improved the stability of the pond's banks.

Evans says water levels at Veterans Memorial Park will follow water levels on Lake Michigan which are at near record levels.

Most of the time the water level on the park's pond will be much lower than it's been this May. When the project is fully finished, Evans says the design will allow the park to handle wet periods without damage.

"Water levels will recede; they will go down," said Matthew Farrar, Muskegon County Public Works Director.

Later this month money from the original grant will pay to block the river with a temporary inflatable aqua dam so some water can be pumped out of the pond. The will allow workers to do final grading, seeding and vegetative maintenance.

"We hope people have patience. We all care about the veterans; the veterans have been a partner in this through their advisory council with the county," Evans said.

"Once the vegetation comes back, it won't look nearly as bad even in a time like we are experiencing right now," Farrar added.

The work done at the park was supervised by a community-based volunteer organization called the Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership. That organization holds open monthly meetings concerned community members are invited to attend. The meetings include the status of current and planned restoration projects around Muskegon Lake.  

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