River Restored - Boardman Dams Removal and River Restoration

With the demolition of Sabin Dam, Michigan’s largest dam removal effort wound down in 2019.  The Boardman Dam removal and river restoration project was not only the largest in the state, but also arguable the only removal effort in Michigan that involved a remarkable level of cooperation between area nonprofits, a Native American Tribal Government, and multiple Federal, State and Local governmental agencies.

The dam removal effort began in 2003 when the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners initiated a process to consider the possible removal of the Boardman and Sabin Dams, located along the Boardman River.  The dams, owned by Grand Traverse County and operated by Traverse City Light and Power to generate hydroelectric power, were no longer being used to generate power and were in need of repair.  In 2005, the Implementation Team and Boardman River Dams Committee, comprised of the dam owners and key agency stakeholder representatives, were established to assess and make recommendations regarding the Brown Bridge, Boardman, Sabin, and Union Street Dams, two of which (Brown Bridge and Union) were owned by the City of Traverse City.  In 2009, the City of Traverse City and Grand Traverse County commissions agreed to remove Brown Bridge, Boardman and Sabin Dams and modify Union Street Dam.  The decision to remove the dams was both economical due to the cost to maintain aging infrastructure and environmental to restore the river to its natural, pre-dam free-flowing watershed.

Funding for the dam removal project and continued work of the Boardman River Watershed Prosperity Plan comes from a variety of public and private sources including the dam owners, grants, and contributions.  Funding partners include the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, NOAA (National Association of Counties), Freshwater Roundtable, and others.

Brown Bridge Dam was removed in 2012, Boardman Dam was removed in 2017, and Sabin Dam was removed in 2018.  Construction of the Union Street Dam FishPass Project is slated for 2020.

Today, Brown Bridge, Boardman, and Sabin Dams are gone, and restoration work was completed in 2018 and 2019 to accelerate healing of the Boardman River banks and floodplain.  The Boardman River Dams Ecosystem Restoration Project reconnected over 160 miles of free-flowing, cold-water stream and restored hundreds of acres of wetland and upland habitat.  It is one of the most comprehensive dam removal and restoration projects in Michigan’s history and one of the largest such projects in the Great Lakes Basin.

The project partners (listed below) are now looking forward to management and stewardship of the post-dam era watershed.  

Project Partners:
  • Grand Traverse County
  • City of Traverse City
  • Conservation Resource Alliance
  • Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians
  • Grand Traverse Conservation District
  • Grand Traverse County Road Commission
  • Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy
  • Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition
  • The Charter Township of Garfield
  • Traverse City Light and Power
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay
Comprehensive information regarding the dam removal project can be found online at the Boardman's website

Watch for announcements from the Conservation Resource Alliance of a community-wide event on Saturday, May 16, to celebrate the launch of the next phase of stewardship.  

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