Something for Everyone

The expansive Muskegon County Wastewater Management Facility caters to groups from birdwatchers and hunters to rocket hobbyists and dog lovers.
Something for Everyone

The Muskegon County Wastewater Management Facility in western Michigan has become a popular recreation area — and a whole lot more. Spanning 11,000 acres and designed to process 43 mgd (12 mgd average flow), the sprawling aeration and lagoon system treats waste from 16 communities before delivering clean effluent to the Muskegon River, three miles away.

With two 850-acre storage lagoons, two 10-acre extended aeration cells and two 20-acre settling lagoons, the facility attracts native and migrating birds, making it one of the premier birdwatching locations in the state.

"The birdwatchers appreciate the opportunity to be allowed on the facility," says wastewater director Mark Eisenbarth. "And so do bird hunters, upland game hunters, deer hunters and many other outdoor enthusiasts." The Muskegon chapter of the Audubon Society reports that some 259 species of birds have been documented at the facility since its completion in 1973. That's two-thirds of all species ever recorded in Michigan, among them the white wagtail, possibly the rarest bird in the state.

More than 3,000 migrating Canada geese pass through the site, sharing the area with birds of prey such as bald eagles and snowy owls. The plant's aeration ditches, dikes and grass-covered fields provide habitat that attracts other migrating shorebirds, waterbirds and raptors.

While visitors may bird watch from almost anywhere on site, there are designated areas for other public activities. A local radio-controlled airplane club maintains a 600- by 400-foot grassy field. A snowmobile club grooms some 20 miles of trails at the plant that connect with a 175-mile trail network. The local astronomical society maintains an observatory and clubhouse on the plant grounds. And a rocket club maintains a few acres for launching model rockets.

The facility's staff prepares a habitat area for Pheasants Forever by weed-spraying and preserving the native bluestem prairie grass and wildflowers. The staff also helps the local Beagle Club by providing a designated area for working dogs. Up to 300 permits are issued each year to archery deer hunters. Waterfowl and turkey hunters and trappers of muskrat, mink, raccoon, coyote and fox also are permitted each season.

"Everybody visiting our facility needs a permit to be on site," says Eisenbarth. "Besides their normal responsibilities, our operators help keep an eye on our visitors to make sure they know where they can pick up a permit."

But other than treating wastewater at a facility so massive it has been seen by orbiting NASA astronauts, the biggest enterprise at the plant is growing and harvesting 5,200 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans. Much of the corn is sold to ethanol producers, while the other crops are sold for cattle feed. Revenue from sales is substantial and helps offset plant operating costs.

Crops are irrigated with effluent distributed through 54 circular spraying rigs that provide tertiary treatment by filtration through the sandy soil. The filtered water is collected in an underground tile drainage system and discharged through outfall to the Muskegon River.

Eisenbarth is excited about the next revenue-producing venture for the facility — a wind farm study by a major wind-turbine manufacturer that proposes to install enough turbines to provide up to 150 MW of generating capacity at the site.

Eisenbarth concludes, "I'm really proud of our employees and their dedication to this natural resource facility, and the array of activities that we offer back to the community."


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.