Midwest Region
Conserving the Nature of America

The Boardman: A River Reborn

The Brown Bridge Dam is one of four damns within the Boardman River Watershed, located in the northwestern corner of the lower peninsula of Michigan in both Grand Traverse and Kalkaska Counties. In 2005, Traverse City Light and Power, Traverse City, and Grand Traverse County organized the Boardman River Dams Committee and concluded to close and remove three of the dams along the river, starting with the Brown Bridge Dam.

Approximately 36 miles of the roughly 160 miles within the Boardman River Watershed are designated as "Blue Ribbon" trout habitat. This pristine fish habitat includes important locations for both trout and anglers. The watershed also hosts other water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and waterfowl hunting.

At an initial cost of $5-8 million, the Boardman River Project is being funded through federal, state, tribal, local government, and private funding sources. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is a partner along with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment, the Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition, Traverse City Light and Power, and several non-governmental organizations to implement this project. The project has received two grants from the Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant Program. The first grant of $250,000, received in 2005, played a pivotal role in initiating and helping complete the Engineering and Feasibility Study to determine whether dam removal would be the preferred alternative for the owners moving forward subsequent to expiration of their associated Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licenses. The second grant awarded in 2010 was also particularly key from a timing aspect, as it allowed the Tribe, along with other project partners, to set up the initial contract for developing and implementing the engineering, design, permitting and other crucial components that define the critical path to dam removal and the reconnection and restoration of the river.

There are environmental, community, regional and educational benefits associated with this project. The environmental benefits include the restoration of over 3 miles of river which will connect almost 160 miles of pristine habitat. The community will benefit from increased income from recreational use of the river. Regionally, there will be a benefit from increased cooperation between interested parties, various levels of government and non-government organizations. There will also be an educational benefit by creating a place where schools can conduct scientific research in the field to assess the impacts of dam removal.

"The significance of the Boardman Project is nearly beyond measure, as it offers such broad and lasting benefits to not only local communities, but the region as well" says Brett Fessell, Fish and Wildlife Coordinator, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. "Benefits will be realized not only through restoration and enhancement of habitats important for resources pursued for subsistence and sport uses; but also in regards to features valuable for recreational activities."

Data collection and assessment for the project started in March 2011. By the end of May, a finalized design, engineering and restoration plan had been put in place for the Brown Bridge Dam removal. The end of September brought the Brown Bridge Dam Reservoir draw down to completion. Between September and May of 2012, pre-deconstruction activities are taking place to get the dam ready for removal. Final deconstruction of the Brown Bridge Dam is scheduled to begin in June of 2012, while final restoration for all three dam removals is slated to be complete by 2018.

This is the largest dam removal in Michigan’s history and the largest wetland restoration in the Great Lakes Basin. Completion of the dam removal will enrich the lives of everyone who will take part and benefit those who will be able to enjoy the restored habitat into the future. Fessell went on to say that, "The progress and success of this project to date would be unrealized if it weren’t for the broad and strong support from the vast spectrum of partners who share a similar vision: A River Reborn."


Last updated: August 6, 2015