Traverse City News and Events

The Future Of The Boardman River

By Beth Milligan | June 11, 2019

A project to create a master plan for the lower Boardman River will have a public kickoff event Wednesday, giving residents their first major opportunity to share input on how they’d like to see the river utilized, protected, and improved in future years.

The Lower Boardman River Leadership Team will host a public open house Wednesday from 4:30pm to 6:30pm in downtown Traverse City in parking lot B, home to the Sara Hardy Farmers Market between Union and Cass streets along Grandview Parkway. The location is “rather symbolic,” says Harry Burkholder, a Traverse City Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board member who co-chairs the Leadership Team. “We wanted to have an event that was tied into the river as we were talking about it, so we’ll be hosting it outside under a big tent with the river right behind us.”

Seven stations will be set up at the rain-or-shine event, allowing residents to share their ideas on topics ranging from improving access to the river to planning and development along the Boardman to celebrating the history and culture of the river. The Leadership Team has also created a “Vision & Values” list that outlines goals for a final plan, such as ensuring multi-modal access is available to the river, avoiding hardening of the shorelines, ensuring the natural flow of the river is enhanced, and protecting the health and integrity of the Boardman’s ecosystem. The Leadership Team wants to see if residents share those values as top priorities, too, so they can shape the plan accordingly, says Burkholder.

The final plan – being called a Unified Plan – would guide projects and planning along the Boardman River from Boardman Lake to West Grand Traverse Bay for years to come, according to Burkholder. “When this committee got underway, it was paramount to everyone involved that this not be a plan that sits on a shelf,” he says. “It will have implementation measures…and short and long-term goals and projects identified. There will be low-hanging fruit of things we could do right away. The DDA will have this front and center in their planning.”

Examples of projects that could come out of the planning process could include beautifying the river-facing alleys in downtown Traverse City, moving parking away from the river to better utilize waterfront property, improving universal access to the river, enhancing recreational opportunities, and creating new zoning rules to protect water quality, to list some possibilities. “Everything is really on the table,” Burkholder says. Projects like the planned $18-22 million FishPass system, starting construction in 2020, will also be reflected in the document. Consulting firm SmithGroup is helping lead the public outreach process, but DDA CEO Jean Derenzy told city commissioners Monday that the final result will be a “citizen-led plan,” not one crafted by consultants.

“We’re hoping to get a lot of citizens’ participation,” she said. Wednesday’s kickoff is the first of several public meetings planned, while suggestions are also being collected online through a web survey. Several other past studies - including Your Bay Your Say and the Boardman River Water Trail Development Plan – are also being incorporated into the process. “It’s important to also note that we’re not starting from scratch,” Derenzy told commissioners. “We do have other plans that are out there…so we’re using that as a base to start from. But that’s not the real plan. The real plan is what will be coming of the citizen-led Unified Plan.”

Burkholder anticipates that a draft of the Unified Plan could be ready by late fall or early winter, though officials have said what’s most important to them is ensuring they collect adequate public input before finalizing the document. “We’re going to do this and do it right,” said Commissioner Richard Lewis at Monday’s meeting. “We’re not in a rush.”

Commissioners encouraged residents to attend Wednesday’s event and make their voices heard as part of the planning process. “We just need everyone to participate to make this work out and support something that really is something we’ll be proud of for generations,” said Commissioner Michele Howard. Commissioner Amy Shamroe agreed, saying that while Grand Traverse Bay might receive more attention, the Boardman River was “just as beautiful and just as vibrant to our city.”

“We often hear that we do things and it’s a surprise, or where did this come from, or no one got to say anything,” Shamroe said. “So I hope everybody does come out and participate. This is a great opportunity for people to have an influence on something that is very, very, very important to everybody in the community.”

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