Home>Watersheds>Boardman River

The Boardman River Watershed

The Boardman River is the largest tributary to west Grand Traverse Bay and contributes approximately 30% of the water to the surface water input for the entire bay.  Its watershed comprises 287 square miles and covers portions of Grand Traverse County on the west and Kalkaska County to the east.  The Boardman River originates in Mahan swamp, and the river and its 22 tributaries account for 180 miles of stream.  The Boardman River is one of the top ten trout streams in Michigan and annually 2 million recreational user days are logged on the river. It is also designated as a Michigan Natural River and Blue-Ribbon Trout Stream.  The watershed also has numerous lakes, some of which are hydrologically connected to the Boardman River, that provide warm water fishery habitat and numerous recreational opportunities.  More than 60% of the watershed is forested, mostly located in the Pere Marquette State Forest, with the majority of the remainder being dedicated to agriculture and open space.  

The Boardman River watershed has undergone substantial change with the removal of Brown Bridge (2012), Boardman (2017), and Sabin (2018) dams and the planned modification of Union Street Dam (2021-2023). This scale of dam removal on a single river is unprecedented in Michigan and the Great Lakes region. The dam removal project returned three impoundments to 5 miles of free-flowing river, and reconnected 19 miles of river to another 31 miles upstream. Engineers estimated that 2.5 million cubic yards of sediment had accumulated in the former impoundments since the dams were built over 100 years ago; 700,000 cubic yards of sand and muck were moved and managed to recreate the river, its floodplain, and nearby wetlands and upland. Returning the Boardman River to its natural flow has had positive impacts on water quality and temperatures, aquatic insect life, fish and wildlife, recreation, and business opportunities.
The Boardman River Watershed Prosperity Plan was finalized in 2019 and is a vision and a roadmap for the future management of the Boardman River.  This effort has met the community’s desire to have a management plan that goes well beyond traditional watershed studies to provide a blueprint for multijurisdictional cooperation to improve the environmental, economic, and social prosperity of the watershed region.  It is one of the first intentional planning initiatives in Michigan to bridge the gap that often exists between natural resource protection and economic prosperity.
The Grand Traverse Conservation District has been working for more than 30 years to stabilize eroding streambanks and replace failing road crossings along the Boardman River.  Since 1993, over 200 of the 416 inventoried road stream crossing and streambank erosion sites have been restored through various grants and local contributions. The Boardman River’s road stream crossing inventory was updated in 2020 by Conservation Resource Alliance utilizing funding from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and US Fish & Wildlife Service where a total of 181 crossings were inventoried on the mainstem and tributaries.

Find Road/Stream Crossings

This page last updated on 2/9/2021.