Home>Watersheds>Grand Traverse Bay

Grand Traverse Bay Watersheds

The Grand Traverse Bay watershed is located in beautiful northwest Michigan’s lower peninsula and drains approximately 976 square miles of land.  The watershed covers major portions of four counties: Antrim, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, and Leelanau.  Grand Traverse Bay comprises 132 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline from its northwest tip at the Leelanau lighthouse to its northeast tip at Norwood.  The bay spans 10 miles at its widest point and stretches a lengthy 32 miles to its base in Traverse City.  Grand Traverse Bay is one of the few remaining oligotrophic embayments in the Great Lakes and arguably has the highest water quality of the larger Lake Michigan bays.    

The watershed may be divided into nine distinctive major drainage basins, referred to as subwatersheds.  These subwatersheds are the Elk River Chain of Lakes, Boardman River, Mitchell Creek, Acme Creek, Tobeco Creek, Yuba Creek, East Bay Shoreline and Tributaries, West Bay Shoreline and Tributaries, and Old Mission Peninsula.  Along with the six major rivers and creeks entering the bay (Elk, Boardman, Mitchell, Acme, Tobeco, and Yuba), it has been estimated there are more than 100 additional small streams that enter the bay.  

Land use and land cover in the entire watershed is predominantly forest (41%) and agriculture (16%).  Other land uses include open shrub/grassland (nonforested), water, wetlands, and urban.  Patches of forests occur regularly throughout the watershed with the bulk occurring in the Pere Marquette State Forest (found in the upper Boardman River watershed) and the headwater areas in the Elk River Chain of Lakes watershed.  Most of the urban area in the watershed is centered in Traverse City, with small villages scattered along both bays.  Just over half of all the agricultural land in the watershed is comprised of pastures and permanently seeded areas (58%), with orchards/vineyards comprising another 30%.  Orchards (mostly cherries and apples) and vineyards dominate agricultural land uses surrounding the bay with other agricultural land types likes pasture and croplands mainly found in outlying watershed areas.

The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay (TWC) has developed watershed plans for the two largest subwatersheds in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed (Boardman River and Elk River Chain of Lakes) as well as the Coastal Grand Traverse Bay watershed encompassing all other areas.  

Conservation Resource Alliance conducted a road stream crossing inventory for the Grand Traverse Bay watershed, excluding the Elk River Chain of Lakes, in 2020 utilizing funding from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and US Fish & Wildlife Service.  The Old Mission Peninsula subwatershed is absent from this road crossing inventory summary because this subwatershed has no road stream crossings.  Road crossing information for the Elk River Chain of Lakes was collected as part of the development of that watershed plan and is not yet available for entry to this database.

Find Road/Stream Crossings

This page last updated on 2/9/2021.