Project opens 37 miles of river for Lake Michigan fish

Fish from Lake Michigan can now migrate 37 miles further north on the Menomonee River, opening up new fishing spots and recreation.

A concrete removal project in Milwaukee was completed in 2016, thanks to a $1.1 million grant from the President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and additional funding and resources from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD).

A steep pitched, concrete channel in the Menomonee River used to prevent most game fish from swimming further north than Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee.

Removing the concrete and naturalizing the river will allow fish to travel an additional 17 miles north on the Menomonee River to Menomonee Falls and an additional 20 miles of tributaries that feed into the Menomonee River.

Removing the concrete creates a more naturalized pool/riffle system to give fish areas to rest as they migrate north.

Menomonee River Concrete Removal

Fish from Lake Michigan can now swim miles and miles up the Menomonee River, something they couldn't do before because of a man made obstacle.

Menomonee River concrete removal

Menomonee River Fish Passage Project / Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Program Grant

In 1965, to improve flood carrying capacity, the Menomonee River in Milwaukee was deepened and lined with concrete for approximately 4,600 feet from present-day North 45th Street to approximately 500 feet south of Interstate Highway 94. The concrete channel begins just 3.8-miles upstream of the Milwaukee River Estuary and confluence with Lake Michigan.

These modifications to the Menomonee River stream bed and banks resulted in creation of a barrier to fish and wildlife movement, and a hazard to navigation and recreational uses of the river. This project addresses approximately 1,000 feet of the steepest section of concrete channel upstream of Bluemound Road bridge. Redhorse, including the State Threatened greater redhorse, common white suckers, and northern pike are routinely observed within the Menomonee River. Salmon and trout fishing are very common in the river downstream of the concrete channel during the salmonid seasonal spawning runs. These and other recreational sport and forage fish such as walleye and smallmouth bass do not have access to their historical spawning and rearing habitat, including over 1,000 acres of riparian wetlands.

While much of the riparian corridor along the Menomonee River in Milwaukee County is in public park lands and Primary Environmental Corridor, the lack of fish movement between Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee River Estuary and upstream reaches of the Menomonee River limits fishing opportunities and other water-based recreational uses. Removal or modification to this barrier to fish passage will enable fish to access habitat and create new fishing opportunities along 37 additional miles of river, tributaries and corridor habitat, up to the Lepper Dam in the Village of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.

The project addresses restoration of fish passage, sustainable fish populations, in-stream habitat, riparian plant communities and water-based recreational uses in one of Wisconsin's most urbanized, populated and demographically diverse watersheds. The work began July 15, 2013 and will be completed within a year followed by a three year vegetation establishment period. The total project cost is $5.4 million and the construction cost is $4 million. Over $1.3 million in grants and in-kind contributions are listed below by the project partners.


  • US EPA ($1,103,000 GLRI grant)
  • National Fish and Wildlife Foundation: ($200,000 grant)
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: post-construction monitoring, creel survey and final stream design assistance
  • Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission: $10,000 in-kind contribution covers a portion of the pre- and post-construction monitoring design and field assessments, hydrologic and hydraulic analysis, and final stream design assistance
  • Milwaukee Riverkeeper: $5,200 in-kind for Citizen Based Monitoring upstream and downstream of site as well as for volunteer coordination of river clean-ups and restoration work
  • Trout Unlimited, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter: $6,024 in-kind for habitat restoration labor, monitoring and fishing education outreach