June 25, 2008

Property Owners Collaborate on Riverside

By Melissa Domsic, The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Jun. 25--TRAVERSE CITY -- The stretch of Boardman River that flows through downtown is sometimes overlooked, tucked between the glistening bay and bustling business district.

"A lot of people say it's amazing how Traverse City kind of historically turned their back on the river," said Steve Largent of the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

Local environmentalists, business owners and others who use and enjoy the river hope to change that notion.

Property owners along the 200 block of East Front Street plan to meet Friday and swap ideas for enhancing the riverside alley. Members of environmental groups also recently began discussing ways to strengthen the river's ecological habitat.

"It's really just started to get rolling," said Andy Smits, an environmental engineer for Inland Seas Engineering. "It's something that I think a lot of people had been thinking about, and now there's an opportunity for them to collaborate."

Smits hopes to work with the city's bayfront planning committee, area organizations and interested individuals to secure funding to spruce up the stretch of river that's "probably as degraded a habitat as you could ever hope to create."

"For a blue ribbon trout stream, and for this gorgeous gem of a bay that we've got on just the other side of the highway, this is sort of an abomination," he said.

A more sustainable fish habitat needs shade trees and a stream bed with more vegetation, boulders and tree limbs. Natural rocks should replace the concrete and steel sheet walls, Smits said.

The alley and its pavement also need work, said Rob Bacigalupi, deputy director of the Downtown Development Authority.

"The railing along the river is really kind of rusted out, there are weeds growing, it's really not a pleasant place," he said. "If nothing else, the condition of the infrastructure there is in poor shape and that alone needs to be addressed."

Merchant Dave Leonhard agreed. He said a lot of people already fish for steelhead in the river and walk behind his store, but the alley is "brutal."

"I'd like to see the river more accessible to people," said Leonhard, owner of Streamside Orvis on East Front Street. "Anytime you can spend time on the water here, I think that's the reason people come to Traverse City, of course. I think that would be great."


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