Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 30, 2013

Students offer plan to enhance downtown river frontage

Traverse City Record-Eagle

— TRAVERSE CITY — Landscape architecture graduate students from the University of Michigan have laid out a plan to enhance the Boardman River’s frontage and adjoining lands in downtown Traverse City.

Classmates in U-M’s School of Natural Resources and Environment presented their Lower Boardman River Revitalization Plan at a recent Downtown Development Authority meeting. Some of the features include a whitewater park at the Union Street Dam, fishing pier at the mouth of the Boardman — both discussed in the past — along with a terraced gathering space across the river from the downtown farmers market, a rain garden, amphitheater built into the hill in Hannah Park, and more.

“We’ve had U of M grad students do this kind of thing before,” said DDA Executive Director Bryan Crough. “They did one for us on connecting downtown to the bay front, then they volunteered to help with this one.

“What the students did was sort of take all of the thinking that’s been going on for years — the idea of a whitewater park on the Boardman included — and sort of visualize them and then connect them,” he said.

Student Katie Dennis said she and the others who worked on the plan all year as their final project before graduation felt the river’s current attractions are disjointed. There is great opportunity for development that will maximize the benefits of the river while protecting it, too, she said.

“We noticed a lot of erosion along the banks, maybe a lack of fish habitat in certain areas, and found that in addition to providing the (improved) circulation, the Boardman River could really benefit from some ecological intervention as well,” Dennis said. “We wanted to design a riverwalk for our project that improved pedestrian circulation along the river and really knit the river into the identity of the community as a whole.

“Our concept was turning the city around to face the Boardman River and use it more as a front yard —more as an amenity rather than as a backyard service space the way it is functioning now,” she said.

In the Warehouse District, the students’ plan calls for reworking parking and creating a multi-use space suitable for food trucks and carts as well as outdoor concerts and other events. That would complement the city’s plans to build a pedestrian bridge across the Boardman River connecting West Front Street with the Warehouse District.

“Attention to the river and that location will be timely with that project,” Crough said, noting money to build the bridge is in the budget for next fiscal year.

The idea of retrofitting the dam’s fish weir into a series of kayak drops while maintaining a sea lamprey barrier is timely because the Army Corps of Engineers is initiating a feasibility study aimed at improving fish passage there. Construction is tentatively set for 2014.

DDA Deputy Director Rob Bacigalupi said the plan has been sent to the city’s Lower Boardman Committee, which has been studying ways to restore and enhance the river below Boardman Lake for the past three years or so.

“They’ll go through it and try to piece it apart so it can be broken up into more achievable chunks,” Bacigalupi said.

Committee member Steve Largent said he hasn’t had a chance to study the plan in depth yet, but likes what he’s seen so far.

“I thought they came up with some great ideas, especially down around the Union Street dam area,” he said. “It was kind of nice to have a fresh set of eyes to look at the entire downtown.”

Click here to view a PDF of the full proposal.