Elk River Chain of Lakes

The Elk River Chain of Lakes is the largest sub-watershed of the Grand Traverse Bay watershed. It covers 500 square miles of land, has over 60 square miles of open water and 200 miles of shoreline, and contributes 60% of the water flowing into the bay. The lakes and streams found in this watershed are some of the most pristine inland waterbodies in the entire country and provide a multitude of recreational and economic benefits for both full time residents and tourists. The watershed includes portions of Antrim, Kalkaska, and Grand Traverse Counties.

Watershed Plan Implementation Team

The Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Plan Implementation Team (ERCOL-WPIT) was formed in 2011 to implement activities pertaining to the Elk River Chain of Lakes in the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Protection Plan. Organized by us and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, ERCOL-WPIT engages lake associations, local governments, area nonprofits, and interested citizens in collaborative efforts to protect and preserve water quality throughout the entire watershed.

Water First Action Plan

The Elk River Chain of Lakes Water First initiative is part of the Great Lakes One Water Partnership, a binational collaboration among coastal community foundations aimed at supporting communities and partners in understanding and taking action on innovative water policies and green infrastructure solutions. The initiative will address fragmented approaches to water policy and implementation by engaging communities and partners through Water First Action Teams that will build engagement and participation of organizations, municipalities, and individuals in a collaborative, regional initiative and conversations.

As part of the Water First initiative, The Watershed Center convened an Elk River Chain of Lakes Action Team to develop an action plan to support and enhance green infrastructure policies and projects throughout the chain of lakes. Using the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Protection Plan and community-identified priorities, the action team selected shoreline protection and septic system management as priority areas of focus.

With continued input from stakeholders, the Water First Action Team developed an Action Plan comprised of a goal statement, action steps, roles, timelines, and resources required for each priority. Now that the Action Plan is complete, subcommittees of the ERCOL-WPIT have formed to implement the plan.

Large Woody Debris

Several log structures were placed in Grass River to determine if the placement of large woody debris would improve aquatic habitat and navigability that have been degraded due to sedimentation. The structures were placed along the banks of the river to deflect some of the flowing water and cause subtle shifts in current direction and velocity. This shift is intended to move sediment out of shallow areas to assist with navigation and improve shallow water habitat.

Fish Shelters

Stephanie Lockman shows off her record muskie for Elk Lake. Photo by Kyle Anderson

Fish shelter structures have been installed at 80 locations throughout Bellaire, Clam, Elk, Intermediate, and Torch lakes.  These shelters provide crucial protection for smaller forage fish, which is vital because shoreline development has decreased natural shallow-water structures.  These shelters should also increase the diversity and number of fish.

You can download a brochure to learn more about the fish shelter project or visit the Three Lakes Association website to see a map of the current fish shelters.

This project was a collaboration between The Watershed Center and:

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