Sterling Heights

Macomb County applies for grant to expand Butterfly Flyway at the Sterling Relief Drain

What’s happening: The “daylighting and green infrastructure retrofit” of two miles of the Sterling Relief Drain in Sterling Heights has proven such a success that the Macomb County Public Works Office is looking to do it again. County officials have submitted a grant proposal to redesign and retrofit another 1.5 miles of the approximately 5 mile-long open channel drainage system.

What it is: The Sterling Relief Drain is located south of Metropolitan Parkway in Sterling Heights, running west of Ryan Road to east of Schoenherr Road. Work began in 2018 to daylight and retrofit two miles of the 1960s-era drainage system, allowing for water to naturally filter through the soil rather than follow the drain and into Lake St. Clair. More than 135,000 native perennial plants, over 1,000 shrubs, and hundreds of trees have since been planted, creating a Butterfly Flyway that regularly attracts more than a dozen species to the area, as well as other important pollinators and birds.

Award season: The project was awarded Project of the Year (Quality of Life/$1 million to $5 million) by the Michigan chapter of the American Public Works Association in 2021. It was lauded for its success in improving infrastructure and mitigating pollution, while also reestablishing native habitat for food-producing pollinators.

What’s next: The Macomb County Public Works Office has submitted a grant proposal to the National Fish & Wildlife Federation through its Sustain Our Great Lakes Program, hoping to receive funding to retrofit and daylight another 1.5 miles of the Sterling Relief Drain, this time west of Mound Road. Thousands of plants would again be added to expand the Butterfly Flyway. The initial project was funded by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

Why it’s important: “Certainly, we need that functionality, but then to create this space where the pollinators can come, it’s a beautiful, wild native area,” says Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor, a champion of the monarch butterfly.

“The more I learned about the monarch butterfly, the more I learned about how important it is to the natural balance of the ecosystem -- how much we rely on these pollinators for all the food that we eat. We take that for granted a lot of times, so I’ve been encouraging residents, and encouraging my colleagues in other cities to take the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge and do what you can to create areas within public property where you can put fly zones like we have here.”

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.