In 1990, about a dozen local agencies and organizations realized they each managed programs with similar visions: “sustaining or restoring the Bay’s watershed to ensure the region’s economic viability, high quality of use and employment for future generations.” These agencies and organizations also realized collaboration could only enhance their individual efforts. Thus, The Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative was formed.

In 1994, the organization formalized its management structure by organizing a Board of Directors, opening an office, hiring its first full-time staff, and seeking nonprofit status.

In 2000 the board adopted the current logo and new name: THE WATERSHED CENTER GRAND TRAVERSE BAY.

Since 1990 the Watershed Center and its partners have undertaken scores of projects, which balance economic growth and environmental protection.



Held the first annual Kids Swim for Grand Traverse Bay.
Celebrated 15 years of restoration and repair along Kids Creek.


Hired Shelli DiFranco as the Director of Community Engagement.
Updated the strategic plan.


Hired Heather Smith as the Grand Traverse Baykeeper.
Held the first annual Swim for Grand Traverse Bay.


Awarded a $8,500 through the DEQ’s MiCorps Volunteer Stream Monitoring Program to expand our Adopt-a-Stream volunteer monitoring program to add 12 sampling sites within the Grand Traverse Bay watershed.

Awarded a $15,335 grant from the DEQ Clean Michigan Initiative-Clean Water Fund to conduct conduct E.coli testing along Mitchell Creek this spring and summer to determine if bacterial contamination is present.

Awarded a $728,840 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue work on Kids Creek, an impaired stream in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. Work includes green infrastructure and streambank stabilization projects to improve water quality and reduce stormwater and sediment inputs to Kids Creek.


Was one of seven organizations statewide to earn a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Grant to improve water quality in Michigan lakes and streams. The $634,321 award will fund low-impact development, green infrastructure practices and sediment controls to restore Kids Creek and protect Grand Traverse Bay.

Was the only organization in Michigan funded by the Royal Bank of Canada. The Watershed Center received $10,000 toward its Kids Creek Restoration Project as part of the RBC Blue Water Project, which supports initiatives that help protect and preserve water in towns, cities and urbanized areas with populations of more than 10,000 people that, among other things, improve control and management of urban storm or rain water.

Received a $27,600 grant from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians to fund weekly monitoring of E.coli bacteria at 13 coastal beaches in the region from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as well as a beach safety initiative.


Installed new runoff filtering system at East Bay Park in Traverse City to protect swimmers from E.coli bacteria.

Installed 15 new rain gardens and nearly 3/4 mile of underground runoff filtering trenches in Suttons Bay to protect family swimming beach from runoff pollutants.

Brought 900 feet of Kids Creek aboveground on Munson’s campus into a natural, meandering stream to improve fish habitat.

Hired Christine Crissman as Executive Director.

Hired TJ Andrews as Policy Specialist.


Installed new runoff filtering system at Bryant Park in Traverse City.

Planted another 700 saplings along the Boardman River in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District and Oryana Natural Foods Market, bringing the total planted to 2,100.

Removed 140,000 cubic yards of sediments upstream of the former Brown Bridge dam along the Boardman River.

Began restoring an urban section of Kids Creek in partnership with Munson Medical Center.

Worked with Environmental Canine Services to sniff out potential leaks in Suttons Bay’s storm drain system.

Launched installation of fish shelters in the Chain of Lakes in partnership with Three Lakes Association, Friends of Clam Lake, Antrim Conservation District, Elk-Skegemog Lakes Association, Intermediate Lake Association and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council.


Received $2.2 million in Great Lakes Restoration Funding from U.S. EPA to address runoff drain systems in Suttons Bay and in Traverse City.

Planted another 700 saplings in the Boardman River bottomlands in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District as part of our Watershed Forestry Initiative, bringing the total planted to 1,400.

Became the only non-profit in the state of Michigan testing the  immunomagnetic seperation adenosine triphosphate method of measuring E.coli levels at beaches.


Launched Watershed Forestry Initiative.

Found that Grand Traverse Bay watershed lost more than 4,000 acres of tree cover between 2001 and 2009.

Planted 700 saplings along Boardman River bottomlands in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

Worked with Environmental Canine Services to sniff out potential leaks or illicit wastewater pipe connections in Traverse City storm drain system.

Surveyed 42 miles of shoreline in Grand Traverse County for invasive Phragmites.

Grew Adopt-A-Stream program to 24 streams adopted.


Worked to convince the Grand Traverse County and Traverse City Commissions’ to remove the upper three dams on the Boardman River, setting in motion the single largest ecological restoration project ever in the Grand Traverse Bay watershed and the largest river restoration project in Michigan.

Conducted macrophyte bed study of Grand Traverse Bay.

Hosted free public education workshop about Phragmites.

Became lead contact for Phragmites control in Grand Traverse County.

A Natural Solution guidebook to low-impact development for stormwater management won second award: Planning Excellence in Best Practices award from the Michigan Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Installed rain gardens and constructed wetlands in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District at the Boardman River Nature Center.

Installed greenbelt buffers in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District at Arbutus Lake No. 5 Public Access and Park, Mayfield Pond Park, and several locations along Kids Creek.

Installed two rain gardens along Rapid River and a biodetention basin at Rugg Pond in partnership with the Kalkaska Conservation District.

Installed two greenbelt buffers on two public access sites on Torch Lake.

Launched Healthy Beaches public education campaign.

Celebrated our 15th anniversary!


Published A Natural Solution guidebook to low-impact development stormwater management, which won a Grand Traverse County Planning Commission Special Award.

Moved into our eco-friendly Bright Blue Building on the Bay after 1.5 years of renovation and thanks to the generosity of Rotary Charities!

Inventoried riparian buffers on all public lands in partnership with the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

Launched Art of the Watershed exhibit series to showcase the beauty of our region and share our important work with residents throughout the Grand Traverse region.


Completed Buffer Survey of Torch Lake.

Held inaugural Freshwater Summit.


Completed construction of the 23-foot Grand Traverse Baykeeper aluminum-hulled, eco-friendly Bay Monitor tugboat.

Conducted the Baykeeper Tugboat Tour for clean boating education to reduce invasive species.

Received $216,000 in US EPA grants and a $425,000 Clean Michigan Initiative grant to fund stormwater education and Best Management Practices installations, erosion control, vegetative buffers and repairing road stream crossings.

Celebrated our 10th Anniversary!


Completed both the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Protection Plan and the Boardman Lake Management Plan.

Received a $99,150 grant from the Great Lakes Commission’s Soil Erosion and Sedimentation Program to restore Kid’s Creek in the 17.5-acre preserve between Great Wolf Lodge and Kohl’s in Traverse City.

Inaugurated Stream Search, a volunteer monitoring project focusing on benthic macroinvertebrate populations in tributaries to the Bay.

Conducted a workshop for Northport residents about wastewater treatment options.

In partnership with the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, hosted a two-day regional watershed planning meeting.


Received a $125,000 Clean Michigan Initiative grant for an online interactive water quality database and to install educational signs throughout the watershed.

Launched the Grand Traverse Baykeeper® program at a dinner featuring a keynote speech by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance®.


Issued second State of the Bay report.

Launched weekly beach E.coli monitoring program in partnership with Grand Traverse and Benzie/Leelanau Health Departments.

Held second biennial Bay Symposium to present research on Great Lakes ice cover, changes to Lake Michigan food web, atmospheric deposition of toxins to the Great Lakes, and local initiatives to protect environmental health.

Received $250,000 grant to undertake a comprehensive watershed protection plan for the entire Grand Traverse Bay watershed.

Hosted a series of educational workshops for shoreline governmental officials to protect coastal resources.

In partnership with the Boardman Neighborhood Association, organized a storm drain stenciling project to reduce waste dumping into storm drains.


Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative changed its name to the Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay.

Issued report about storm water monitoring, documenting high bacteria levels and nutrient loading to the Bay.

Received the Michigan Outdoor Writers Award for Protection of State Waters.

Received CF Industries National Watershed Award for Partnerships to Protect Water Quality.


Completed first water quality and habitat assessment of nine selected near-shore sites in Grand Traverse Bay.

Partnered with Michigan State University to develop a land transformation model for water quality changes associated with land use change.

Hosted first Grand Traverse Bay Symposium.


Distributed first biennial State of the Bay report.

Partnered with the United States Geological Survey to resume operation of an automated monitoring station on the Boardman River.

Hosted the Sustainable Coastal Communities Conference with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration.


In partnership with the Grand Traverse Regional Math Science and Technology Center, 35 teachers and 1,000 students participate in the Water Watch program and water quality monitoring day. Findings presented at the annual Student River Congress.


Partner projects such as the Mitchell Creek Watershed Planning Project are highlighted in National Geographic Magazine as an example of community efforts to reduce nonpoint source pollution.


Held first annual Bay Day event.


Incorporated as a private non-profit.

Hired first executive director.

Hosted National Forum on Non-Point Source Pollution.


Rotary Charities of Traverse City and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided funding to support the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative. A board of directors is formed and a coordinator is hired.


Watershed residents and the City of Traverse City host International Joint Commission’s 5th Biennial Conference on Great Lakes Water Quality. Local efforts to protect land and water resources are cited by the IJC and are recommended as a model for community based pollution prevention programs.

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