Preserving Michigan Shorelines

Michigan Shoreline.
5 min read

Did you know that Michigan has the second longest coastline in the U.S. next to Alaska? And Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline, at 3,288 miles. Michigan is known as the Great Lake State because it touches 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the world’s freshwater!

How exciting to have all this freshwater surrounding and in our state! Because of Michigan’s wealth of coastline and inland lakes, protecting and preserving our precious shorelines is very important. Some important inland water facts include:

  • Michigan has 1,194 square miles of inland waters;
  • There are more than 11,000 inland lakes; 95 of these being 1,000 acres or greater;
  • Houghton Lake – the largest inland lake, has over 20,044 acres with 30 miles of shoreline.

That is why in 2008, the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership (MNSP) was formed by a collaboration of state agencies, academia, nonprofit and private industry, to protect inland shorelines with natural shoreline technologies and bioengineered erosion control, versus hard shoreline seawalls such as steel or aluminum.

Professional certification requirements for design of natural shorelines include a 3-day training and 1-day field exercise using “soft engineering,” the use of ecological principles and practices to reduce erosion and achieve shoreline stabilization and safety, while enhancing habitat and water quality, improving aesthetics and reducing costs.

Benefits of soft engineering techniques include protecting Michigan’s riverbanks and shorelines from wave action and erosion, while improving ecological features that benefit water quality. A vegetative native buffer zone aids as a filter between lawn and water bodies, cleaning stormwater runoff that contain fertilizers, pesticides and pollutants. Native plant buffers also aid in discouraging geese habitat, reducing invasive plant species such as purple loosestrife and phragmites, and provide a rich, active habitat for fish and wildlife.

This Best Management Practice (BMP) aids in restoring and preserving the integrity of Michigan’s inland shorelines. Public awareness is noticeably more prominent, as local lake communities are contacting us for this expertise. For instance, Genoa Township’s East and West Crooked Lake communities are seeking solutions to develop a shoreline improvement plan addressing the concerns of shoreline erosion and geese nuisance.

Funding for shoreline improvement projects is becoming more prevalent through governmental agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Zone Management Program. This program is committed to protecting, managing, and restoring sensitive coastal habitats, including wetlands and sand dunes, while promoting public access for wise use of our waterfronts. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is another federal program that funds shoreline restoration with a focus on “Areas of Concern” as designated by the U.S. and Canada Great Lakes Areas of Concern | US EPA.

The Friends of the Detroit River (FDR) are constructing an assortment of shoreline restoration projects along the Detroit River with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding administrated by NOAA – some with several million dollar budgets. All of these projects emphasize fish and wildlife habitat enhancement – fish spawning and nursery habitat in particular.


Aerial view of Michigan Shorelines


Construction to Preserving Michigan Shorelines

Stony Island Project

A current FDR project involves constructing over 3,000 linear feet of living shoal along the north and west side of Stony Island, an uninhabited island in the lower Detroit River, to protect a fragile shoreline and wetland from erosion. Environmental benefits will include 10,000 square feet of Common Tern habitat on top of the shoal islands, 50 acres of calm backwater for fish spawning and nursery with two acres of deep water habitat, and an assortment of amenities for waterfowl, turtles, snakes, mudpuppies and mussels.

The economic benefit of this work is immense. Recreational and commercial fisheries are a vital part of Michigan’s heritage, valued between $4 – 7 billion annually. While sport and commercial fisheries bring tremendous revenue to our region, subsistence and tribal fishing, as well as aquaculture, are part of the Great Lakes fishery.

Project Owner: Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Project Engineer: Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc.

Visit the FDR website for more information regarding this and other Detroit River restoration projects. Friends of the Detroit River

People are beginning to recognize the importance of enhancing overdeveloped shorelines with environmentally responsive treatments. Lake recreation and the natural environment can work in harmony to sustain one another to preserve and protect Michigan shorelines for generations to come.

About the Author

Janet Evans, PLA, has 26 years of experience working as a Landscape Architect. Janet has a wealth of knowledge and understanding in landscape architecture, working in a multi-discipline arena with design and engineering firms.

With a passion for the green industry and promoting sustainable environments, she provides on-site leadership, design, site assessments and inspections, meeting coordination and service implementation. In her vast career, Ms. Evans has created master plans and designed parks and recreational | athletic fields and other public spaces across the United States. Ms. Evans is a Certified Natural Shoreline Professional.

  • Since May 2011, Michigan Certified Natural Shoreline Professional identifies Janet as a professional trained in the use of “Green” landscaping technologies and bioengineered erosion control for the protection of Michigan inland lakes. MCNSP is approved by the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership.
  • Janet and PEA are posted on the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership website as a Preferred Certified Contractor. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will refer interested parties to this list on their website.
  • Janet has received in-depth training on the State of Michigan’s permit requirements and process for soft shoreline construction.

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