ENVIRONMENT: Shoreline Stewardship project targets Torch, Bellaire and Clam lakes

ANTRIM CO. – The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council is teaming up with the Torch Lake Protection Alliance and Three Lakes Association on a cooperative project to provide on-site evaluations and innovative educational programs on shoreline property management. The Shoreline Stewardship Year 2000 Project is the latest commitment of these three organizations to protect the fragile ecosystem of the Torch, Bellaire, and Clam Lake watershed.

Tip of the Mitt is one of the premier environmental organizations in northern Michigan with a number of successful projects targeted at education, advocacy, and the analysis and monitoring of water quality. At a local level, Three Lakes Association focuses attention on these same aspects on the connected waters of Torch, Bellaire, and Clam lakes. The Torch Lake Protection Alliance, the newest of the three organizations, views its role as primarily Torch Lake, but recognizes the impact of the waters of the entire watershed.

The watershed generally begins in northern Antrim County with Intermediate Lake flowing into Lake Bellaire. At the southeast corner of Lake Bellaire, the Grass River connects to Clam Lake. Clam Lake then narrows into the Clam River and finally flows into Torch Lake. But the chain does not end there. At the south end of Torch Lake, the Torch River meanders south and eventually flows into Lake Skegemog and Elk Lake. The chain ultimately ends at the dam in Elk Rapids which controls the flow into Lake Michigan.

Jack Norris, president of Three Lakes and long-time area resident, knows that the chain of lakes is paramount to the quality of life and the economic well-being of Antrim County.

“We know that there’s contaminant pollution entering the lakes. We know where to look and how to correct it. We suppose that affected land owners will welcome correction. Why? For two major economic reasons: the cost of health care and the whopping size of their land and home investment,” he said.

There are three main components to the Shoreline Stewardship project. The first task is to conduct shoreline assessments to learn more about shoreline areas where nutrient pollution is evident. In layman’s terms, that means areas of significant algae growth.

The excess nutrients that cause algae growth can come from several sources, including septic systems and the use of phosphorus rich fertilizers.

In a lake such as Torch where phosphorus content is extremely low, even small increases in phosphorus can ultimately result in significant degradation of water quality and clarity.

The second component of the project will be building partnerships with local nurseries, lawn care services, landscapers, and related businesses. The goal is to educate both businesses and lakefront property owners in better shoreline property management, especially lawn care around the lakes.

A comprehensive booklet is planned that will describe safe and simple ways to manage shoreline property. For example, reducing the amount of fertilizers and pesticides is a big first step in making a lawn ‘lake friendly.’ Bagging grass clippings and fall leaves or using a mulch mower is another way of reducing nutrient pollution into the lake.

The third component is the most ambitious. It calls for the installation of a demonstration shoreline erosion control project on Torch Lake. Doug Fuller from Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council has seen first hand the impact of shoreline erosion on the quality of lakes.

“Erosion and the transport and deposition of sediments is a natural process, but when certain natural or human disturbances occur, erosion can become greatly accelerated,” he said.

Fuller is quick to point out that the end result is pollution of the water and destruction of aquatic and near-shore habitats. He is especially excited about setting up this demo.

“The plan is to find a property owner with an erosion problem. Tip of the Mitt will work with that property owner on a 50 percent cost share basis. We will provide design, coordination and construction of the erosion control project,” he said. “It’s a great deal! The only catch is that we would like to hold periodic pre-arranged open houses so that other property owners can see first-hand some of the things they can do with their shoreline. We believe it is a win-win for all.”

It will take the resources and commitment of all three of these organizations to tackle a project of this magnitude that impacts so much of the water surface in Antrim County.

Jack Norris sums it up nicely. “We intend that Project 2000 will remedy where necessary, teach and demonstrate where there is interest, inspire where needed, and make practical help widely available.” BIZNEWS