By LORAINE ANDERSON
TRAVERSE CITY — The signposts between Sabin, Boardman and Brown Bridge dams tell the story of the Boardman's River changing course.
A pink wetlands delineation ribbon hangs from a tree where exposed bottomlands edge up to a boardwalk between Sabin and Boardman dams.
"No Jumping and Diving" is posted at the end of a dock that has no water under it.
Warning signs in sensitive, changing areas along the river caution people that they may encounter unstable ground, steep banks, deep water and strong currents.
What will the Boardman River restored be like without dams and dam ponds over the few years?
Paddlers, tubers and anglers can expect faster and colder water, as well as new rapids where ponds used to be.
"Most of the rapids will be like what we have along Keystone Trail," said Ben Purdy, parkland program coordinator for the Grand Traverse Conservation District, which manages the 1,310-acre Brown Bridge Quiet Area and the adjoining 505-acre Grand Traverse County Natural Education Reserve.
Hikers and walkers eventually may find boardwalks through saturated bottomlands and prepared earthen paths in the uplands.
The public, however, will be asked to stay off bottomlands for a couple of years so seeds can take root and plants can grow, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Draft Environmental Assessment released in late March.
Purdy and others are now discussing temporary trails that lead away from mucky spots, steep and crumbling banks or freshly seeded bottomlands but still offer opportunities to view the work from uplands and the Brown Bridge Dam overlook.
Many other details about the dam project, such as fish passage upstream from Union Dam, have yet to be decided and ultimately depend on upcoming scientific assessments and public input.
Sturgeon are a possibility because the ancient fish probably was a native species in the Boardman before overfishing and outright slaughter wiped them out in the late 1800s. Sturgeon can live to be 100 years old, grow 8 feet in length and weigh up to 800 pounds.
They would pass up the river through the weir at the city's trap-and-transfer station and be released upstream beyond Union Dam to swim on to spring spawning grounds. They would return to the bay through fish passage modifications to Union Stream Dam, the assessment said.
Still unknown is whether spring-spawning steelhead and fall-spawning Pacific Coho and Chinook salmon will be allowed upstream. All three species are known to carry high concentrations of toxic chemicals. PCBs were banned in the 1970s, but the toxins still accumulate in salmon and steelhead.
When the migrating fish spawn in the lakes' tributaries, stream-dwelling fish can eat their contaminated eggs.
Removing the dams will affect more animals than fish.
Aquatic pond habitat will become more terrestrial. Warm-water fishing in the two miles of restored river will disappear with the ponds and time.
Migrating wildfowl will be displaced and will stop over at other suitable open-water habitats, the assessment said.
The free-flowing river will become ecologically healthier. It will reconnect to floodplains. Emergent wetlands are expected to form along both sides of the river after the final drawdown.
The restored river also is expected to boost the area's economy by bringing more cold-water anglers, kayakers, canoeists, hikers and walkers to the Boardman Valley, the assessment said.
One sign promises something long-lasting. It's the plaque on the boulder outside the Boardman River Natural Education Center. "This Natural Education Reserve is dedicated in perpetuity by the people of the Grand Traverse Area for nature study and quiet recreation. Dedication in Bicentennial Year July 4, 1976."