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Once too polluted, Lansing's Red Cedar River is once again open to anglers

For the first time in nearly a half century, people will be encouraged to fish along a portion of the Red Cedar River as it winds its way through the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.

At a ceremony Monday near the campus’s western edge, MSU dignitaries, including Sparty, took turns dumping buckets of Steelhead trout into the meandering Red Cedar River.

Organizers want anglers to start casting their lines into the Red Ceder in hopes of reeling in the sportfish.

That’s a big change.

Scott Hanshue is a fisheries management biologist with the Southern Lake Michigan management unit of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

He says since the 1960’s the Red Cedar River was not a good place to fish.

“In the past, it suffered water quality issues, primarily agricultural drainage. It suffered a lot from non-source point runoff,” says Hanshue. "Since the enactment of the Clean Water Act, the river’s cleaned dramatically. It supports a diverse fishery now.”

Last December, the MSU Board of Trustees agreed to reopen a section of the Red Cedar to fishermen. The river had been closed because the MSU campus is considered a preserve. So its off-limits to hunting and fishing.

Trustee Dianne Byrum says the river will not only serve as a place to catch fish. She says it will also become a kind of learning laboratory for MSU students.

“Not only the socio-economic areas of fishing in public areas,” says Byrum, “they’re also studying water quality….the different species….habitat changes…there’s all kinds of things that we can do.”

If you’re hoping to catch one of the steelhead, the MDNR’s Scott Hanshue says the fish dumped in the Red Cedar River this week won’t stick around too long.

“They’ll swim downstream to Lake Michigan,” says Hanshue.  “A few will come back next year, but the majority will be back in two to three years, and they’ll be back at about three to five pounds.”

The DNR plans to continue stocking the Red Cedar River on the MSU campus for the next five years.

This year, the state plans to stock state rivers and streams with 19.5 million fish.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.