Special Report: Restoring The Boardman

A monumental environmental project just took a huge step forward.

The Boardman River is closer than ever to flowing the way nature intended.

Crews worked all summer to remove the Boardman Dam and powerhouse in Grand Traverse County.

It’s the second dam to be removed as part of the Boardman River Restoration Project that’s been underway for years.

They’re nearly finished releasing the water the dam held back.

The Boardman Dam was one of four dams on the Boardman. Now it’s gone, along with the Brown Bridge Dam.

The pond it created is practically gone.

It’s getting the river flowing, and revealing some history.

“This is a brand new stretch of old river. Hasn’t flowed like this in over a hundred years. It’s pretty awesome to see it,” said ecologist Frank Dituri.

Where there was a dam clogging the Boardman River, creating this a large pond, is looking like a river again.

It’s no small task.

“There’s just so much going on, this is essentially a three mile long construction project that has three pieces. River restoration upstream, draw down and river relocation down here near the dam, and removal of the powerhouse and road,” said Frank.

The Army Corps of Engineers says you’ll still see heavy equipment working to remove sediment.

“Because there’s this 80 year backlog of sediment, we’re trying to get ahead of it and dredge it out so we’re not sending too much of it downstream and overloading it,” explained Alec Higgins, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

As they meticulously drained the water held back by the dam this summer, it revealed things not seen since 1894.

“You’re seeing trees that grew in about a 30-40 year period after the deforestation. If you look around the bottom lands, you’ll see these really big stumps. Those are the original white pines that were here that were cut down,” explained Frank.

Alec said, “All these old stumps here are a great indicator of where the river used to be.”

And where it is again, bringing the Boardman closer to being a free flowing, cold water river.

“The project itself is easy to be passionate about when you see the benefits of it. And just really how cool it is to take a dam out, restore a river, and the merge of the different sciences between ecology and engineering and hydraulics is just pretty fascinating,” explained Alec.

Frank said, “Yeah, blood’s flowing. I love that analogy. That dams are like clogged arteries, and rivers are certainly the arteries of Mother Earth and to remove a dam and to have that rejuvenated flow is just not only good for Mother Earth but all the waters that surround it, you know?”

Good for the environment, and those who want to enjoy the waterway.

Frank 17:18:38 “The implications are just so far reaching,” explained Frank. “We have the ability for recreation and kayakers and fishermen and for scientists to come and watch a restored river through the process of restoring itself. So it’s going to be years before the restoration is complete, we kinda get the river back in its own old location, help with some seeding and planting, let Mother Nature take over, and it’s an education for us all to watch this thing come back. It’s just a joy.”

The much anticipated opening of the Cass Road Bridge, replacing that old one-lane road over the powerhouse, is finally here.

Then it’s on to the Sabin Dam removal next year, with the Union Street Dam modification set for 2019.