He spent thirty years saving a Michigan stream

Rockford man’s efforts recognized in bridge name


Bruce and Patricia Dutcher in their Rockford home showing off the plaque that will permanently identify the bridge over a trout stream as the Bruce Dutcher Bridge. Patricia shows off a certificate from the Oceana County Road Commission commending efforts that led to the installation of an environmentally-friendly bridge in place of a metal culvert.

Bruce and Patricia Dutcher spend their time between two homes—one on the bank of Bear Creek in Cannonsburg—the other on the banks of another creek in Oceana County. The Oceana County home has been in Patricia’s family since the 1940s, and one of the appeals of the property has been the splendid trout fishing of Cobmoosa Creek. Over the past 30 years, the couple has been dismayed to see the damage to the fishery and the creek itself after a metal culvert was installed that lead to horrible erosion.

“I watched it happen thirty years ago,” said Bruce. “There was an old bridge they took out.” Dutcher said the bridge back then was replaced with a six-foot diameter metal culvert that ran 60 feet under the roadbed. Back then Dutcher was a younger man than his current 84 years, and was busy raising his family and about to be president of the Grand Rapids Realtors Association. He was a busy guy.

Dutcher, an avid fisherman, had always appreciated the abundant population of brook trout and brown trout in the stream at his home about 75 miles from the one here in Rockford. He and Patricia would be hard put to decide which of their homes they enjoy more—the Rockford one with a commanding view of several curves in Bear Creek and, on occasions, a view of seasonal waterfalls—or the other creek-front home named after the 33 maples on the property. Each property is graced with a sign naming the homes for their natural beauty, Falling Waters here, there Maple Lane. Both homes are remarkable for their natural beauty, but after a time, there were distinct differences in the two creeks.

“A steel culvert is an ecological disaster on a trout stream,” stated Dutcher. He is emphatic about his opinion because the proof has been right in front of him for three decades, and for three decades he has been making his observation loud and clear to everyone he could.

“I couldn’t begin to guess how many letters he’s written,” said Patricia. She used to keep a file on each of the missives sent out through the United States Mail Service to members of the Oceana Road Commission, to state representatives, to governors, to conservation groups. Not computer savvy, Dutcher’s complaints about the state of Cobmoosa Creek were done the old-fashioned way, on paper, with pens. Lots of them.

Dutcher told public officials how each big storm created a lake upstream of the culvert, and the strength and pressure of the water traveling through the culvert made the outflow a weapon against the banks below, ripping out trees and creekbanks. “It became a giant gun barrel,” he said. The result was “horrific” erosion that worsened over time.

“The brookies are all gone now, but there are some browns left,” Patricia said of the current state of Cobmoosa Creek. She strongly supported her husband’s long battle to bring attention to the plight of the waterway.

So impassioned about the environment, the couple raised their six children to also appreciate nature, and daughter Lisa eventually became a consultant for the Oceana Road Commission, writing environmental grants for the White River Watershed. Perhaps as determined and driven as her father, this year her efforts helped secure a bundle of Department of Environmental Quality and United States Forest Service grants.

Two of the multiple grants received for Cobmoosa Creek were earmarked for the bridge on Pierce Road by the Dutcher’s Oceana County home. One was for $67,443 from the Department of Environmental Quality and the West Michigan Land Conservancy, the other for $26,175 from the United States Forest Service. Along with them were similar grants for the length of the stream to replace a series of culverts just like the one by the Dutcher’s home.

With construction starting in June to replace the culvert with a broad timber bridge, the Dutchers were delighted that long years bringing attention to the trout stream’s decline had paid off. They eagerly awaited the October 25 ribbon cutting ceremony for the new bridge, to which they had been invited.

“I had no idea it was going to happen,” said Dutcher. As the chair of the Oceana Road Commission finished a speech, with members from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a state representative and other esteemed persons standing by, the announcement was made that the structure was officially titled the Bruce Dutcher Bridge in honor of Dutcher’s long efforts to see it come to pass.

The couple is still stunned by the honor, and excited that years of deterioration of the creek are at an end, a long improvement in quality in the stream’s future. In fact, they were so pleased by the recognition of Bruce’s efforts through thousands of letter over so many years that Bruce re-wrote his own obituary to include the story and the inspirational conclusion. He called the honor a “once in a lifetime experience.”

“I was so surprised,” he said. “You could have knocked me over with a feather.”

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