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Oxbow at The Henry Ford

The Oxbow Restoration project at The Henry Ford restored a connection to the Rouge River for benthic macro-invertebrates, amphibians, birds, fish and small mammals. The reconnection will provide benefit to bass, channel catfish and bowfin by the creation of lacustrine habitat.

Continued flooding in the 1970s caused the federal government to channelize the Rouge River by constructing a concrete channel that was hydraulically efficient and cost-effective. However, this cut-off oxbows associated with the river, limiting much of the aquatic habitat and all but precluded the passage of most fish from the Detroit River to the Rouge River. In an effort to provide habitat, resting locations for migratory fish, recreational opportunities and restored wetland areas, Wayne County, The Henry Ford and the ARC began to restore the Oxbow. In 2002 the main Rouge Oxbow channel was recreated providing 13 acres of aquatic wetland and upland habitat. Then in 2005 the southeast open cut connection of the Oxbow to the Rouge River was restored. This project will make the last hydraulic connection and habitat improvements needed and will be constructed from fall 2018 through summer 2019. The oxbow restoration continues to provide a unique opportunity within The Henry Ford to provide a forum for experiencing a variety of natural ecosystems and educational opportunities.


Funding and Parnters

In 2002 funding from CMI and the Rouge Project restored 13 acres of aquatic wetland and upland habitat and hydrolically reconnected the oxbow to the Rouge River. In 2005 Ford Motor Company funded the restoration of the southeast open cut connection of the Oxbow to the Rouge River. In 2015 the Alliance of Rouge Communities (ARC) received approximately $256,000 in grant funds provided by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for design. In 2016 the northeast open cut connection of the Oxbow to the Rouge River began through a portion of an almost $8.7M GLRI grant received by Wayne County for 3 projects (the Oxbow at The Henry Ford, Nankin Lake, and the Fishway at the Henry Ford Estate) Grant #GL-00E02040-0. Partners in this project include the U.S. EPA, GLRI, NOAA, The Henry Ford, Wayne County, the ARC and the Rouge River Advisory Council (RRAC)

Where and When

The Oxbow is located at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan along the Lower Branch of the Rouge River. Project design and construction began in 2002 and completed in 2019.

Anticipated Outcomes


Native plants and seed mixes chosen for the Oxbow Restoration Project will enhance habitat for wildlife and increase opportunities for wildlife viewing. Native plants installed along rivers and streams provide food and shelter for a variety of insects, amphibians, reptiles, songbirds, mammals and fish. The open cut will help maintain a healthy population of prey species for many resident fish, which can help to produce big and healthy recreational sport fish. The Oxbow serves as a nursery spot for younger fish and the reconnection to the Rouge River can provide more access to the young fishes residing in the Rouge River seeking nursery habitat. The project provides benefits to a number of native amphibian and reptile species by providing turtles in the river cover and refuge in the backwater area of the Oxbow. The natural shoreline and muddy bottom of the Oxbow will provide habitat that can be used for foraging, cover, breeding and nursery, and overwintering refuge that the Rouge River in this area does not provide. The Oxbow Restoration Project will also include the installation of habitat features that benefit amphibians and reptiles such as basking logs, woody aquatic structure, hibernacula sites, and nesting locations. The Oxbow Restoration Project will also benefit birds, mammels, insects and pollinators with improved habitat.

Photo History of Project:


Summary of Overall Restoration Activities



Photo Gallery of the Northeast Open Cut


Aerial view of closed off oxbow





Project sign





Project area prior to cut to the Rouge River





Work begins to connect Oxbow to the Rouge River





Channel cut to the Rouge River





Finished project conntecting the Oxbow to the Rouge River


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Phone | 734-768-2180

46036 Michigan Ave., Suite 126 | Canton, Michigan 48188