Trail Creek Watershed improves with collaboration

Maggi Spartz

As a child of the Indiana Dunes and an avid sailor, water quality is near and dear to my heart. In 2003, the Unity Foundation began learning about and caring for the Trail Creek Watershed. This area “sheds” the rain and snow melt from 59 square miles of mixed use land into our beloved Lake Michigan. In partnership with the Michigan City Sanitary District and the Michigan City Mayor’s office, we convened many partners to create Trail Creek Watershed Management Plan; A Tale of Two Creeks. It was approved by IDEM in 2007.

We were relieved to learn that Trail Creek was healthy, but stressed. Comprehensive water data showed we needed to decrease E. coli, sedimentation, nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen,) and to maintain natural stream channel and flow. Increasing public awareness of their watershed was critical. The vision: Through collaborative efforts, we can provide the stewardship and leadership required now in order for future generations to enjoy the natural beauty and prosperity of a clean Trail Creek. Many good things have sprung from the 2007 plan.

In 2011, the Trail Creek Partnership expanded and applied for an IDEM 319 grant. Partners include: La Porte County & Porter County Soil & Water Conservation Districts, NIRPC, Michigan City Sanitary District, City of Michigan City, Urban Waters Federal Partnership, U.S. EPA, MC and La Porte County Park Departments, Unity Foundation, NWI Steelheaders, Indiana Dept of Environmental Management, Indiana DNR, Save the Dunes, National Park Service, La Porte County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Indiana Illinois Sea Grant, NWI Paddling Association, Lake Michigan Coastal Program, Tryon Farm Institute, NiSource, La Porte County League of Women Voters and concerned citizens.

With the grant funds and concerted collaboration, the Watershed Team was successful. Through education and a cost-sharing program, more people were using “Best Management Practices” (BMP’s.) Examples include planting cover crops, building bio swales, rain gardens, installing a permanent animal manure diversion system and much more. These resulted in keeping 80 tons of sediment, 1400 lbs. of nitrogen and 350 lbs. of phosphorus PER YEAR, from entering Trail Creek and eventually Lake Michigan.

Public involvement rose considerably. Thousands of students and residents had new opportunities to learn about Trail Creek and how to care for her and all of our watersheds.

• School programs: Nearly 5,000 elementary and high school students enjoyed hands-on experiences during the past three years. Activities included field trips, clean-ups, water quality monitoring, canoe excursions, summer camps and a Lake Michigan experience on the W.G. Jackson research vessel.

• Residents joined in paddling events, Riverwatch water monitoring, clean-up events, school Family Fun nights, seminars, presentations, Kayak races, and students creating art on our storm drains to remind people that the drains run unfiltered into Trail Creek.

• Each partner echoed the information through their outreach and new signs were installed along the creek.

The Unity Foundation is proud to be a founder of the Trail Creek Watershed Partnership. By collaborating, we have and will continue to accomplish more together than any organization or government agency could do alone. 

Maggi Spartz is president of The Unity Foundation of La Porte County. Contact her at or 879-0327.

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