Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Water Resources > Watershed Management > Cheboygan River Watershed


Cheboygan River Watershed

The Cheboygan River Watershed is large (over 1,400 square miles) and contains hundreds of individual lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. Portions of six counties, and the towns of Gaylord, Onaway, Cheboygan, Indian River, and Alanson, are all part of the Watershed.







The Lakes, Rivers, and Wetlands of the Cheboygan River Watershed



  • Black River
  • Maple River
  • Pigeon River
  • Sturgeon River


  • Indian River Spreads
  • Pigeon River Spreads
  • Green Swamp
  • Pleasantview Swamp
  • Reeses Swamp
  • Waldron Fen
  • (along with many other lakes, rivers, and wetlands)

The Cheboygan River Watershed is at a crossroads. One direction involves uncoordinated development that threatens the very resources that drive the local economy. Another direction involves the coordination of land use decisions across the Watershed in a way that promotes a sustainable economy based on protecting the resources that make this area special.

The primary sources of stress impacting the environment in the region are:

  • residential development
  • roads and utilities
  • dams
  • increased imperviousness
  • shoreline alteration

While these threats are projected to increase, numerous opportunities exist to educate residents and visitors to the Watershed on the natural resource protection and ways to minimize the impacts of human activities.

In the final plan for the Cheboygan River Watershed, six strategies were selected for immediate development and implementation:

  • upgrading road/stream
  • crossings coordinating land protection
  • establishing and enforcing sound planning and zoning
  • implementing shoreline best management practices
  • promoting economic benefits of resource protection
  • retrofitting existing developed areas to reduce
    polluted stormwater runoff

Important Features and Needs of the
Cheboygan River Watershed


Ground Water-Driven Streams and Riparian Corridors

Small ground water-driven streams are the lifeblood of the Cheboygan River Watershed. Numerous springs and seeps collect into the cold and pure streams that feed the Sturgeon, Pigeon, and Black Rivers, which in turn feed the large lakes in the Watershed. These streams and their associated riparian (riverside) corridors define the southwest portion of the Watershed and provide habitat for thriving populations of trout. These ground water-driven streams have been subjected to erosion from past logging as well as ongoing impacts such as road/stream crossings, increased runoff, shoreline development, and vegetation clearing.

Bogs, Fens, and Conifer-Hardwood Swamps

Swamps in the Cheboygan River Watershed are typically found along streams and rivers and include a wide range of vegetation from shrubs to forests dominated by red maple, black ash, northern white cedar, and balsam fir. Bogs and fens have unique water chemistry and support an interesting array of plants and animals. These wetlands serve a range of important functions that contribute to the health of the entire Cheboygan River Watershed. Green Swamp, which feeds the headwaters of two major branches of the Black River, supports at least two-thirds of all orchid species known in Michigan, provides habitat for deer and bear, and is home to a thriving population of state threatened red-shouldered hawks.

Hungerford's Crawling Water Beetle (Brychius hungerfordi)

This ice-age relic species occurs only in the Great Lakes region, and three of the five known occurrences of the species are found in the Cheboygan River Watershed. This creature is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and by the State of Michigan. This beetle is a link to the geologic history of the region and contributes to the biological diversity that is unique to the Watershed. While much remains unknown about the beetle's life cycle and habitat requirements, it is generally found in stream segments with moderate to fast stream flow, inorganic substrate, and good stream aeration.

Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

The lake sturgeon is a member of a family of fishes that has remained virtually unchanged since before the dinosaurs became extinct. This bottom dwelling species is most frequently associated with large lakes or the deep pools of rivers where aquatic insects are abundant. Historically, lake sturgeon inhabited numerous inland lakes and rivers in Michigan. Currently, known spawning populations persist in only a few of the systems, most notably in Black and Mullett Lakes. Migratory barriers, loss of spawning and nursery areas, fishing and poaching pressures, combined with the species late maturity and low reproductive rates, have led to the decline of sturgeon populations.

Lakes and Associated Wetlands

The Cheboygan River Watershed is known for its large, deep, high quality, kettle lakes which support an array of fish and wildlife and serve as the core attraction for a thriving resource-based tourist economy. Expansive wetland systems have formed where the large rivers filter into these lakes. These large marshes, such as the Indian River and Pigeon River Spreads provide critical spawning habitat for fish and nesting, foraging, and migration habitat for a wide range of birds. Such areas are essential to the recreational activities of fishing and waterfowl hunting in the Watershed. Much of the shoreline around these lakes has already been developed, so conservation efforts are needed to preserve and restore remaining wetland and shoreline habitats.

Michigan Monkey-Flower (Mimulus glabratus var. michiganesis)

Michigan monkey-flower, known only to occur in Michigan, was federally listed as endangered in 1990. The species is restricted to habitats with a consistent flow of cold ground water and abundant sunshine. This flower is unique to Northern Michigan and is a good indicator of the health of our small tributaries. Michigan monkey-flower is highly vulnerable to isolated disturbances including residential and recreational development, lake level fluctuations, upstream water diversions, and increased shoreline and riparian activity by humans.

Lakes and Streams in Karst Terrain

The eastern side of the Cheboygan River Watershed is distinguished by a karst landscape composed of sinkholes, abrupt ridges, caverns, and disappearing and underground streams. This unique landscape is a result of fractured limestone overlain with relatively thin deposits of sand and gravel left over from the glaciers. Because the karst topography provides numerous pathways for surface contaminants to infiltrate very rapidly into an unpredictable subterranean network, this part of the Watershed is highly vulnerable to ground water contamination.

Wildlife Core Habitat and Corridors

This conservation target recognizes the need to preserve and restore large, contiguous tracts of intact forest to provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife species including black bear, elk, bobcat, and neotropical migrant birds. These forests have been highly altered by historical and current logging practices, roads, development pressure, and agricultural activities. Because of existing blocks of state land, such as Pigeon River Country, and large tracts of privately held hunting land, there is a great potential for success in maintaining existing habitat and restoration.

Land Cover of the Cheboygan River Watershed

Population Density of the Cheboygan River Watershed

Links to our Cheboygan River Watershed Partners

Headwaters Land Conservancy www.headwatersconservancy.org

Huron Pine RC&D Council www.huronpines.org

Little Traverse Conservancy www.landtrust.org

Michigan Department of Natural Resources www.Michigan.gov/dnr

NEMCOG (Northeast Michigan Council of Governments) www.nemcog.org

The Nature Conservancy www.nature.org/Michigan

Upper Black River Watershed Restoration Committee
PO Box 346, Atlanta, MI 49709 517-785-3453

Cheboygan River Watershed Habitat Partnership Conservation Area Plan

In 2001, a partnership brought together the diverse talents and experiences of several agencies and organizations dedicated to the protection of the Cheboygan River Watershed's natural resources. With funding provided by The Nature Conservancy and the C.S. Mott Foundation, and coordinated by Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, the partnership unites the talents and techniques of the Little Traverse Conservancy, the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Northeast Michigan Council of Governments, Headwaters Land Conservancy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Huron Pines Resource Conservation & Development Council, and the Upper Black River Watershed Restoration Committee.

Note: This document is 51 pages long. If you have a dial-up connection
the document may take several minutes to download.
Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council • 426 Bay Street, Petoskey, MI 49770
PH: (231) 347-1181 • Fax: (231) 347-5928 • www.watershedcouncil.org
Copyright © 2015 by Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. All rights reserved. SiteMap
Powered by SiteChalk