HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) – A $12 million project aims to clear up the notoriously unattractive Lake Macatawa in Holland.
“That’s what the elementary school joke was. I grew up here in town and it was Lake ‘Macatoilet.’ That’s gross,” Kylen Blom said. “That’s just what the perception is.”
Blom owns Coast 3, a recreation company that rents kayaks and other “fun in the sun” equipment. He said he spends too much time fighting the stigma surrounding Lake Macatawa.
“Especially for a lot of people that are out of town that may not know the history of Lake Mac and they come and look at it and kind of go, ‘Well, why is it that color?’ For them to come and see it like any other lake, that would be great,” he said.
Lake Macatawa is noticeably more brown than the waters of Lake Michigan, into which it feeds.
Now, there’s a huge push to change that after two local residents with a lot of pull decided enough was enough.
“The watershed project, Project Clarity, started when Dick Devos and Jim Brooks — residents on Lake Macatawa — approached us and said, ‘What’s going on with the lake? Why does it look the way it looks? And what can we do to potentially fix it?’” Travis Williams of the Outdoor Discovery Center explained.
Project Clarity is a $12 million public-private plan to restore the Macatawa watershed and ultimately clear up Lake Macatawa. It’s in the first phase of several and is expected to take over 20 years.
“We’ve known for years the problem with Lake Macatawa and the Macatawa watershed in general: There’s too much sediment. There’s too much nutrient — in this case it’s phosphorus — that’s in the system,” Williams, who directs Project Clarity, said.
He said sediment eroding from stream banks, farm fields, parking lots, rooftops and roadways runs into the watershed and makes it “really dirty looking.”
“It looks like chocolate milk when it rains out,” he said.
Project Clarity aims to reduce phosphorus by 70% in five key areas in the watershed.
It has already acquired some land to restore wetlands and flood plains, which will act as natural filters.
“Wetlands are the kidneys of the environment,” Williams said. “They usually exist along flood plain areas.”
The first installment in the 175-square mile project is already complete at Noordeloos Creek at the Paw Paw foot bridge in Zeeland. There, a sloping bank with rocks and plantings was added.
“We’re looking at replacing wetlands back in the system. We’re looking at buying key pieces of land that could be used for restoration,” Williams said. “We’re looking at stream-based projects and we’re looking at best management practices implemented both in the rural areas and agricultural lands, as well as in these urban areas, where we can hold water from running off parking lots and off buildings and keeping the water in the system where it’s supposed to be.”
Williams said the project will also help decrease E. coli levels, which are a problem at Dunton Park in Holland. It’s closed periodically each summer because of high E. coli levels, thouugh Williams said the E. coli quickly dissipates before traveling any further into Lake Macatawa.
“Once we hold it in these outer wetlands and we slow the water down, it’ll die off before it ever gets down to Lake Macatawa or it will at least help that process,” Williams said.
Williams is also working to educate the public about the project.
“We have events and programs going on throughout the community. We have a water festival that’s happening later in July and then we also have a variety of information pamphlets, speaking engagements, different programs we’re doing,” Williams said. “We’re meeting with all of the lakefront owners around Lake Macatawa and have programs going on with them. We’re talking with all of our local units of government.”
The project is welcome news to business owners like Blom, who has a vested interest in getting people out on the water.
“Once you get talking to them and have the conversation with them and can explain that it’s the phosphorus in the water that makes it that color — it’s not because there’s open sewage, it’s not ‘Lake Macatoilet’ — that’s when people are like, ‘OK, I’ve heard all these things and that’s all it is,’” Blom said. “It’s just people that have heard things. They haven’t really experienced it.”