Portage Creek, once one of Robert Cavelier de la Salle’s main routes to Chicago, links to Portage Creek of the Grand River with an overland carry of one mile. Also called Hell Creek by residents, it is easily one of the region’s prettiest and healthiest tributaries. The Portage Creek watershed includes major lakes such as North Lake, Halfmoon Lake, and Portage Lake. Much of these lakefront was divided into very small parcels in the early 1900s for seasonal cottages. However, over the past several decades, much of this housing has been converted to year-round use taking a toll on the lakes of the area with the impacts of septic systems, increased impervious surfaces, and a loss of riparian vegetation. Many of these septic systems have been converted into sewer systems, which has greatly increased the water quality in recent years.

Portage Creek flows through Ingham, Jackson, Livingston, and Washtenaw Counties; Dexter, Lyndon, Putnam, Stockbridge, Unadilla, and Waterloo Townships; and the Village of Stockbridge. It is composed of 115 miles of branching stream channels, and it drains 79 square miles of land. Over its length, the creek’s elevation drops 116 feet. The average slope is 11 feet per mile, which is slightly less steep than most of the other tributaries of the Huron River. There are 29 lakes (open water > 5 acres) and 62 ponds (open water < 5 acres) in the Portage Creek watershed.

The Portage Creek watershed is geologically unique due to glacial activity. Water retention in the wetlands, floodplains and lakes, as well as fast water drainage in the upland areas creates a mosaic of different habitats. The varied glacial terrain allows for a variety of ecological communities and thus a large diversity of plants and animals within the region including a wide array of rare species.

Since Portage Creek is so healthy, HRWC and the Nature Conservancy have made protecting it a high priority. We constantly monitor it for looming threats, and we work with local governments and property owners to preserve the natural areas that keep it clean. Learn more about Portage Creek