Friday, November 20, 2009

Along the Boardman

We didn't have much time for exploring on Sunday as we had to head home that afternoon, so we stayed closer to Karin's than on Saturday. After some debate, we decided to walk along the Boardman River. There were benches for Lori (still recovering from foot surgery) and a nice path down the river bank.

Here is the Michigan DNR's description of the Boardman:

The Boardman River is located in Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties in northwest lower Michigan. It rises in the Mahan swamp in north central Kalkaska County and flows in a southwesterly direction for 40 miles. Turning north for nine miles, it empties into Grand Traverse Bay at Traverse City. The Boardman River system drains a surface area of approximately 186,000 acres and includes about 130 linear miles of stream.

The end of the river, passing near Traverse City, is an urbanized--there are several dams for hydroelectric power, and the trails are well-used and well-warn. But the Department of Environmental Quality has determined that the river is better off without the dams and has begun removing them. The ponds that were created by the backwaters are still there, but much smaller now. Karin took us to see one of these ponds, and show us how folks who once had "lake front" property were now high and dry.

We stopped at an old boat launch to take a look. I, however, was much less interested in the homes than in the little waterfowl skittering around on the pond. I jumped out of the car and grabbed my camera, and to my delight, saw that they were buffleheads!

I am an amateur birder, and only recently started keeping track of the birds I've seen. It's hardly enough to call it a life list yet, but it's always exciting to find a bird I've never seen before. I have never paid waterfowl much attention--to me all duck-like birds were mallards--but I've learned a lot in the past few years and now look much more closely at who's swimming around on a pond or lake.

The photo below shows two males on the right, two females on the left.

The lowering of the pond level revealed some interesting things, including long abandoned boats.

We drove farther upstream to the trail along the river where we could deposit Lori at an overlook and the rest of us could walk a little. Next to the path to the river there were fields of sumac. I like the goldenrod in the background, I think it looks like snow.

The Boardman is a much larger, faster river than the Crystal, faster too now that the dams are coming out. And while the area is much more heavily used, there were still plenty of pretty scenes.

I was genuinely surprised to see recent beaver activity here. We found several beaver-chewed sticks in the water, small branches stripped of their bark, and this tree which had been gnawed on not all that long ago. Perhaps the beavers up along the Crystal had been trapped out, while the population here was somewhat protected by development? Hard to say for sure. There are certainly species--raccoons for one--who have adapted to living closely with us and benefit from living in an urban area where there's no hunting or trapping.

Popular with kayakers, the Boardman has several spots with class I or II rapids. This was the gnarliest part of the river that we saw, and keeping in mind it's mid-November, pretty impressive. I'd like to go back in the spring and see it filled with run-off.

As the river nears the dams downstream it slows down a bit, but it's much faster now than it was pre-dam removal. The Boardman is actually a pretty good trout stream, better if you go farther upstream than here, but still fishable in the lower areas. Removal of the rest of the dams should improve its quality further.

You can see here how high the water was before restoration. It's not so pretty now, but given time nature will reclaim this area. The regenerative abilities of nature never cease to amaze me. Usually, we just need to get out of the way.

We are looking forward to a winter trip to TC to visit Karin and do a little skiing or showshoeing. Yeehaw!

Correction: no dams have as yet been removed. Water levels have been lowered in anticipation of dam removal. Thanks, Karin.


  1. Just wanted to clarify, Marie, that the Boardman pond levels have been lowered in anticipation of damn removal and that is what is increasing the river flow at this time. No dams have been yet removed, that I am aware of.

  2. PS LOVE the Wren illustration on this blog: adorable and scrubby.

  3. love the photo of the sumac and goldenrod - what great color and texture!

  4. Thanks, Karin, for the correction. I was taking photos, not notes. :-)