A River Reborn

Oct 14, 2021

Boardman - 201809spillway sabin dam
4 Boardman aerial 2
4 boardman logging
previous arrow
next arrow

The Ottaway (Boardman)

Originally known as the Ottaway, the Boardman River has been tied to the Grand Traverse region’s culture and economy since the area was first settled. The native Aníšhinaábek people used it for sustenance, transportation, community gatherings, and spiritual connection before the lumber boom ushered in an era of logging and development. As the area’s economy grew, its population boomed. It wasn’t long before several dams were constructed on the river to provide hydroelectric power to Traverse City. At the turn of the 21st century, the dilapidated dams were decommissioned and a multi-party Implementation Team (IT) recommended the removal of Brown Bridge, Boardman, and Sabin dams, and modification of Union Street Dam.

Photo: An Aerial view of the Boardman during dam removal and restoration work. 

Now 14 years in the making, the Boardman River Reborn marks a new era for CRA. It is the largest dam removal in Michigan’s history and one of the most significant in the Great Lakes Basin. It involves partners from local, state, tribal and federal agencies, and independent organizations, and blends grants from over 30 sources totaling $27 million. For the last decade, CRA has been the project manager and fiduciary to the IT, steadily guiding the dam removals to completion. The project itself is the largest undertaking CRA has ever tackled and reverses one hundred years of damage to this critical watershed. For us – it has been an invaluable learning experience through which we have deepened our knowledge, learned from our mistakes, and matured as an organization. “This project allowed us to do what we do best,” said CRA’s Director, Amy Beyer. “And it allowed us to become better river stewards.”

“The project allowed us to become better river stewards”

Amy Beyer

Director, CRA

Today, the river remains a pillar of the region’s economy – an estimated two million visitors use the Boardman River recreationally each year, and its surrounding area has become a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. With the removal of Sabin Dam in 2018, the third and final dam removal is complete and plans for modifying Union Street Dam are well underway. As we prepare for the next chapter of the Boardman River’s life, we’re armed with lessons well-learned and we’re grateful for our role in this incredible experience. After 100 years of human-influence and exploitation – the Boardman River is reborn.

Photo: Demolition of the Sabin Dam on the Ottaway (Boardman) River


295 square miles

River Miles

161 miles


Grand Traverse County, MI

Wildlife Benefited

The floodplains and the reborn Boardman river benefit:

Brook Trout
Brown Trout

Various Frogs

River Otter

Bald Eagles
Common Loons
Green Herons
Great Blue Herons
Hooded & Common Merganser
Wood Duck
Common Loon
Blue-winged Teal

Various aquatic insects

Various native trees, grasses and wildflowers

Photo: Spillway of the Sabin Dam during removal.

Photo: CRA and SOGL team members float the Boardman to view progress. 


Looking for more on the Boardman River dam removal and restoration project?

Click the link to read the full Boardman Report: A River Reborn 

Projects like this are not possible without the help of our members and partners. We’d like to send a special “thank you” to:

City of Traverse City, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Grand Traverse County, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition, Traverse City Light and Power, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Grand Traverse Conservation District, Grand Traverse County Road Commission, The Charter Township of Garfield, Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Great Lakes Fishery Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Michigan Department of Transportation, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, Frey Foundation, Brookby Foundation, Oleson Foundation, The Conservation Alliance, Patagonia, DTE Energy Foundation, Trout Unlimited, Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and donors like you!