A Southwestern Michigan College graduate from Buchanan received the third annual Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award.
This award honors volunteers and conservation professionals who work in the 15 counties in Indiana and Michigan which drain into the St. Joseph River.
McCoy Creek protector Scott King, a former Buchanan city commissioner and mayor pro tem for three years, earned an SMC associate of arts degree in 1981.
He went on to study business at Grand Valley State University and public administration at Western Michigan University.
King is the first Michigan resident to receive the award named for the Friends of the St. Joe River (FofSJR) founder. Smith, 86, died April 5, 2011.
Bob Owens, the first recipient in 2012, was a lead organizer of clean-up events for 17 years who paddled the 210-mile St. Joseph River in its entirety.
The 2013 winner, Dona Hunter, retired from the LaGrange County Soil and Water Conservation District in April 2012 after almost 27 years.
The award honors individuals such as King who go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining a healthy St. Joseph River Watershed.
It was presented at the seventh annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by FotSJR in Sturgis.
In fact, this year’s call for nominations resulted in a surprisingly easy decision for the board of directors.
All nominations received named King for his tireless efforts to preserve and improve McCoy Creek, a cold-water tributary to the St. Joseph River.
“I was born a ‘king,’ so I don’t need any accolades,” King said, “but it’s a great honor for all the volunteers from 30 communities.”
Actually, outsized accolades are in order. The unique handmade award in the shape of the watershed is a sort of traveling trophy that will be displayed at Buchanan District Library, 128 E. Front St.
King, an avid fisherman, has been the principal and sometimes sole organizer of annual clean-up events for not only McCoy Creek, but also the St. Joseph River from the Niles dam to the Berrien Springs dam.
He has recruited Boy Scouts, anglers, high school students and local residents to participate.
“What we’re trying to do is restore the stream so it’s great for trout and salmon to live and ducks and the wildlife around it to not have to eat and survive in a lot of garbage,” King said.
Recently, King has gone beyond river clean-up to lead development of a collaborative watershed approach to downtown Buchanan’s problem with the water supply to historic Pears Mill dwindling to the point its water wheel no longer turned.
King worked with the city and the historical preservation society to devise a solution that would supply power to the grist mill while guarding the cold water of McCoy Creek.
His determination, positive attitude, ability to work with partners and his strong, non-confrontational manner led to substantial creek improvements.
Improvements included removal of a shallow pond which threatened the creek’s cold-water status, restoring stream banks to improve habitat and water quality and adding in-steam structure to improve fish habitat.
The creek is now more aesthetically pleasing, supporting fish and wildlife, while also providing water to turn the wheel of the 1857 mill so it can once again grind corn for benefit of the public, local history and student educational programs.
King’s continued dedication to the stewardship of McCoy Creek is admirable.
His energy will not stop with the recent stream restoration. He is already working with the Berrien County community to add woody structure at the confluence of McCoy Creek and the St. Joseph River to provide habitat for fish and aquatic life, proving his conservation efforts never rest.
“It’s great to see the environment coming back,” with reports of bald eagles frequenting the river, King said.