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Protecting Northern Michigan's ​Water Resources

Intermediate River

The Intermediate River is located in the Upper Elk River Chain of Lakes and includes many separate reaches, the most prominent reach connecting Intermediate and Bellaire Lakes. Descriptions of each river section are presented below:

Overview of Intermediate River

Primary Inflows

Headwaters

Primary Outflows

Mouth

Lake Bellaire

Surface Area

0 acres

Shoreline

Maximum Depth

Known Aquatic Invasive Species

Intermediate River between St. Clair and Ellsworth Lakes

 

This short river segment is only 0.3 mile long. The river flows under Pleasant Hill Road through an eight-foot diameter corrugated metal pipe culvert.  The river’s average annual flow at this point is about 63 CFS. It is navigable by runabouts up to 16 feet long, except when the water is extremely high or low. There is not much elevation loss between St. Clair and Ellsworth Lakes.

 

The Village of Ellsworth’s Wooden Shoe Park is located on the west bank of the river, near its mouth. The public can also access the stream from the road crossing. There is one tributary, Skinner Creek, which enters from the northwest. Firm sand sediments are present throughout most of the channel, with the margins being mucky. A shallow sandbar is present at the river’s mouth.  The source of this sand is probably Skinner Creek.

Intermediate River between Ellsworth and Wilson Lakes

 

This stretch of the Intermediate River is only about 0.25 mile long. There is very little elevation loss over this stretch.  The river is crossed by Clay Pit Road (a gravel road) via a narrow old bridge. There are 13 property parcels along this stretch of river, seven of which are developed. Wetlands are present along all 13. The bridge crossing represents the only public access. There is one small, unnamed tributary. Firm sand sediments are present throughout most of the channel, but with mucky margins. There are some rocky or gravelly areas near the bridge, probably having been placed as roadbed fill material.

Intermediate River between Wilson and Ben-Way Lakes

 

This is another short river segment, with the distance between the lakes being only 0.3 mile. No roads cross the river. There are four shoreline properties, and no development along the river itself (although one of the properties also lies partly on Ben-Way Lake at the river mouth, and a house is located there). There is no direct public access to the lakeshore, although the MDNR access site on Wilson Lake is just upstream from the head of the river. A wide swamp is present all along the river, and there are no tributaries. Typical of other segments of interconnecting rivers throughout the Upper Chain, firm sand sediments are present throughout the center portion of the channel, with mucky margins.

Intermediate River between Hanley and Intermediate Lakes

 

This is the shortest stretch of the Intermediate River, flowing only about 0.2 miles until reaching Intermediate Lake. The river flows through the Village of Central Lake, and its banks are quite urbanized. There are 25 property parcels on the river, 23 of which are developed (92%). There are four public accesses, three of which are the ends of Village streets. Old State Road crosses the river where it flows into Intermediate Lake. Only three of the properties have wetlands (12%). Two small unnamed tributaries enter the river. The river mostly has a gravelly/sandy bottom and beds of muskgrass (Chara) are common.

Intermediate River between Hanley and Intermediate Lakes

 

This is the shortest stretch of the Intermediate River, flowing only about 0.2 miles until reaching Intermediate Lake. The river flows through the Village of Central Lake, and its banks are quite urbanized. There are 25 property parcels on the river, 23 of which are developed (92%). There are four public accesses, three of which are the ends of Village streets. Old State Road crosses the river where it flows into Intermediate Lake. Only three of the properties have wetlands (12%). Two small unnamed tributaries enter the river. The river mostly has a gravelly/sandy bottom and beds of muskgrass (Chara) are common.

Intermediate River between Intermediate and Bellaire Lakes

Although the Intermediate River is the name used for several of the interconnecting river segments in the Chain, the stretch between Intermediate Lake and Lake Bellaire is the largest and longest of any. It is 4.25 miles long. The shoreline length is approximately 8.8 miles, because of a backwater area behind the dam. Its overall watershed is about 140 square miles, but its immediate watershed is only about 31 square miles.

A dam is located on this stretch of river, just upstream of the Village of Bellaire. This dam actually backs up water throughout the Upper Chain to Six Mile Lake (the elevation difference between Six Mile Lake and waters behind the dam is less than one foot).  It precludes navigation and upstream migration of fish, and is considered the division between the upper and lower Chain of Lakes.

The dam was built in 1890’s to raise the water level for floating logs, and subsequently altered to produce power.  Although water levels behind the dam have fluctuated over the years, it has raised the level of Intermediate Lake about four feet over the original level. Changes in water level resulting from dam repairs became a divisive issue among lake residents in the late 1980’s with some wanting it higher to facilitate navigation, and some wanting it lower protect septic systems and reduce shoreline erosion. In something of a compromise, a court ruling eventually set the level at the long term summer average for the period of record keeping.

The river’s average annual flow just downstream from Intermediate Lake is 144.6 CFS, 239.2 CFS at M-88 (in downstream Bellaire), and 240 CFS at the river mouth. The big increase in discharge between Intermediate Lake and M-88 is due to the discharge of the Cedar River.

Wetlands appear to be present on approximately 78 (60%) of the shoreline parcels on the Intermediate River. Many of the wetlands consist of a relatively narrow fringe along the shore. Especially noteworthy are wide conifer swamps in both the upper and lower portions of the river.

Most of the river has sand, or sand and gravel bottom sediments. However, about 0.5 mile of river below the dam has a steeper gradient with rocky substrate. Overall, 36% has sand, gravel and rock; and 64% had sand or gravelly sand. In the Intermediate River, pondweeds and wild celery (tapegrass) were common in the lower portion, muskgrass (Chara) in the upper portion, and the middle portion was primarily unvegetated.

The Cedar River, one of the major streams in the ERCOL Watershed, is the only tributary to the Intermediate River.

Although the Intermediate River is not a coldwater stream, due to its surface discharge from Intermediate Lake, it is on the MDNR’s list of designated trout streams, likely due to the seasonal presence of migratory members of the trout family attracted to the fast, rocky riffles below the dam. Other species, like walleye and bass, probably also use the rocky riffle for spawning.

Intermediate River Upstream from Beals Lake

 

The Intermediate River flows into the southeast end of Beals Lake. The stream system has eight tributaries, including Hitchcock, Spence, Seamon, and Taylor Creeks. The most distant of these tributaries originates about six miles upstream of Beals Lake. From the perspective of distance of flow, this is the most distant of the ERCOL’s tributaries–about  60 water miles upstream of the mouth of the Elk River (but only about 18 miles away by straight-line distance).

 

The Intermediate River flows out of a 1,417 acre conifer swamp called Hitchcock Swamp, one of the largest, and reputedly most impenetrable, swamps in the area. The stream’s waters have a slight tea-colored stain due to leaching of organic material from the swamp. The greatest elevation of the river’s headwaters is 812 feet. The stream drops 192 feet in elevation, for an average stream gradient of about 32 feet per mile. Most of this gradient occurs within the upper few miles, where the stream originates in hilly terrain before flowing through the swamp. There are large tracts of State and County land along the stream system. Old State Road is the only road which crosses the stream, just upstream from Beals Lake. Where it crosses the road, the stream is about 20 feet wide and one foot deep, with a sand and silt bottom. Its discharge is about 20 CFS. Thermal characteristics of the stream indicate that it has moderately-high ground water inputs. The stream is located in Echo and Kearney Townships. The Intermediate River is designated as a trout stream by the MDNR.

 

The MDNR planted brook trout in 1956 and from 1959-1965, but it was decided that due to stable stream flows and excellent natural reproduction, stocking was not warranted. Besides trout, minnows and sucker were also listed as being present.