Lake Charlevoix leaders and residents learn about shoreline protection

Inland lake shoreline owners and local governments have important roles to protect water quality. Lake Charlevoix is an excellent example where both groups are learning about these issues.

Earlier this summer, 75 local leaders and shoreline residents sailed on Lake Charlevoix aboard the Inland Seas Education Association schooner Inland Seas to learn about lake ecology and shoreline protection. Viewing shoreline vegetation and beaches from the lake rather than the shore is a great way to see lakeside issues and opportunities for protection. Michigan State University Extension, the Lake Charlevoix Association and Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council sponsored the event.

Participants learned about greenbelts and used a simple form to rate them on several parcels along the shore. Greenbelts are defined as existing or planted areas of trees, shrubs and other natural vegetation along most of the width of the lot and extending inland from the lakeshore. They are very cost-effective and long-term ways to capture and filter water runoff before it gets into the lake, and with it nutrients that can cause excessive algae and plant growth.

They rated properties on five different factors: the greenbelt length, width, density (ease of walking through), types of vegetation and amount of mowed turf extending to the shore. Although the State of Michigan has no rules about greenbelt configuration, the ideal greenbelt extends at least 80 percent of the shoreline parcel length and extends at least 50 feet from the shore inland. The most effective greenbelts are composed primarily of deep-rooted trees, shrubs and native grasses and wildflowers. They are relatively dense, but not so much that they excessively block views and water access. Mowed turf does not protect shorelines from erosion, so limiting the extent to no more than 20 percent of the length of the parcel’s shoreline is good practice.

Attendees discovered that the shoreline segment traveled during the tour included a combination of excellent greenbelts, both very formal and more natural-looking, and some parcels with no greenbelt at all. Many Michigan inland lakes exhibit the same pattern.

Retaining existing natural greenbelts is the best option, but re-establishing buffers on parcels where they were removed is another opportunity for landowners. Starting with a plan and adding trees and shrubs over time while reducing mowed turf can help stabilize eroding shorelines, reduce pollutant runoff and enhance habitat for fish, frogs, birds and butterflies.

While sailing the Lake Charlevoix shore, residents and local leaders also learned about the zoning and other regulations that mandate shoreline and greenbelt protection. Many communities that have inland lakes within their jurisdiction require specific minimum building setbacks from the shoreline, maintenance of greenbelts, the maximum lot percentage covered by buildings and paved areas, and other provisions. These regulations vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This variability is compounded on a large body of water like Lake Charlevoix, with a shoreline shared by seven townships and three cities. Since water is a resource shared by all, federal and state laws also regulate shoreline development.

Attendees also worked with Inland Seas Education Association staff members to measure and observe water clarity, chemical parameters and fish populations, all of which can be affected by water runoff from shorelines. Fortunately, Lake Charlevoix water quality remains excellent, and can remain that way with good stewardship by landowners and appropriate regulation by local, state and federal governments.

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