Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 6, 2013

Name change floated

Baykeeper says river should return to Ottaway name


TRAVERSE CITY — Everyone knows the Boardman River as just that — the Boardman River.

But Grand Traverse Baykeeper John Nelson is floating the idea of renaming the river to honor the waterway's connection to Native American history.

"The river is being renewed, so why not take back the name it had when it was a natural, free-flowing river?" Nelson said.

The Boardman name took hold in the 1800s, but some old historical maps identify it as "Ottaway." The Ottaway reference is believed to be a European translation of words used to describe the river hundreds of years ago, and perhaps a reference to local Native American cultures.

Nelson thinks something along the lines of Ottaway or Ottawa might work if a name change comes into play.

It's not clear if anyone else is serious about pursuing a new name or if Nelson's suggestion instead offers a chance to revisit how the "Boardman" name stuck to Traverse City's cherished river.

"It was named after a lumber guy who wasn't up here for that long," Nelson said.

That lumber guy: Capt. Harry Boardman. Boardman came to the area in 1848, established a sawmill and acquired timber rights for the surrounding land. He stored logs for his sawmill in a natural lake on what was then "the Ottawa River," according to the Boardman River Dams Implementation Team website.

Within four years Capt. Boardman sold his timber rights to the men now considered Traverse City's founders, Perry Hanna and Tracy Lay.

"Capt. Boardman was only here for maybe parts of three to four years ... but he got the river named after him," said Steve Largent of the Grand Traverse Conservation District.

The Boardman River Dams Implementation Team is removing three dams on the river to return it to its free-flowing natural state. The removal of the first dam, the Brown Bridge Dam, caused extensive flooding and threatened public safety on Oct. 6.

Chuck Lombardo, spokesman for the Implementation Team, said its members take no position on a name change.

Others think it's best to keep the Boardman name as is.

"I think it should remain the same," said Ted Kraimer, a local fly fishing guide who occasionally takes fishermen to the Boardman. "Everyone has come to know it as the Boardman."

Traverse City environmentalist Greg Reisig said he too wants to keep the name the same.

"I'm in favor of leaving it the Boardman, but would be open to naming a branch of the river the Ottawa," Reisig said. "(Harry) Boardman was one of the first settlers of the region, but I sure would like to see a way Native American names can also be included."

Brett Fessell is a fish and wildlife coordinator for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. He said the river is deeply treasured by the band.

"In the time I've spent working with the tribe and working with friends I've made there, it's clear the connection is very deep," Fessell said. "It's not just a physical connection and of sustenance and harvest of resources. It's a spiritual connection, as well."