TRAVERSE CITY — Car enthusiasts sometimes modify suspensions to give their vehicles lower profiles.

Captain John VanDusen needs a lowrider boat every time he passes under the Murchie Bridge and heads out on West Grand Traverse Bay. It has put a serious cramp in the operations of Reel Fun Fishing Charters, a 38-year-old business.

“I cleared the bridge with the top down, by two inches,” VanDusen said after a charter last week. “The water ... is across the boardwalk. It’s getting really critical. I think I’m going to have to lower my windshield so I can put my top down another six inches.”

VanDusen needs to slip under the Murchie Bridge because he moors his boat on the Boardman River along a boardwalk that often leaves him with wet feet.

“I don’t have a dock,” VanDusen said. “It will put me out of business if it doesn’t change.”

High water levels on Lake Michigan and other inland bodies of water have added time and expense to businesses operating on and around it.

Officials from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service attended a late May meeting in Traverse City where they announced that water levels are expected to break records on Lakes Superior and Erie, and rise on the other three Great Lakes.

Kayaks and docks

Jeffrey Bensley, owner of Paddle TC at Clinch Park in Traverse City, said high water invaded the boat launch and left parts of the pavement under water. The high water levels haven’t shut his business down, but it has affected it.

“I think everybody knows that it slows down productivity,” Bensley said. “It’s not just me. It’s the boaters looking to put in their boats; it’s everybody that has to deal with the high water. For us, it just takes us more time to do everything when we’re dealing with that.”

Power Harbor Boat and Dock owner Brandon Oaks has seen time added to his operation. It’s just in the planning stages rather than the actual execution.

“We just have to change all of our designs and build to the water levels that we have,” Oaks said of the family-owned business that opened in 2001.

Oaks said most boat hoists have a water depth mark on it from previous years, so Power Harbor Dock and Boat puts the hoist in the same spot and builds the dock to it, even if it is significantly closer to the shore in 2019.

Oaks said some of the docks his company installed are 20 to 40 feet shorter than last summer. That reduction actually saves his clients some cash, but also creates another problem: What to do with the dock sections not needed this year?

“We’ll throw them ideas,” Oaks said. “A lot of times we’ll use them as a beach patio. A lot of them will bury it in the sand where the dock starts.”


High water level issues aren’t limited to Grand Traverse Bay and inland lakes.

Fishtown in Leland also has had to grapple with the issue on Lake Michigan, compounded by seiches, which can temporarily raise waters even farther.

The Fishtown Preservation Society had to call in the fire department and fill 150 sandbags on May 9 to keep high water levels at bay.

Water was up to the back door at The Village Cheese Shanty. A levee system with a pump was created to keep Dave Kareck’s business afloat.

“Because they sit the lowest on the property, any fluctuation in the level of the water coming in, he’s the first place affected,” said Summer Meyer, assistant to the executive director of the organization.

“They have six months to make a year worth of income and also to pay all their people,” Meyer added. “We know how vital bringing in a day-to-day income is. That’s our responsibility as landlord to make sure they are up and running.”

Meyer said seiches are common at Fishtown, but are more noticeable with the high water levels on Lake Michigan.

The Manitou Transit Company raised its dock a foot near the mouth of the Leland River earlier this summer to combat the issue.

VanDusen remembers high water levels being an issue in 1986, but his older boat could still find a way underneath the Murchie Bridge.

Water levels are expected to reach their maximum next month. Several people are ready for that milestone to arrive.

“They’re talking its going to go up a couple of more inches,” VanDusen said. “Usually it tops out in July and then it goes back down.”

Paddle TC keeps about 30 kayaks behind a rock wall at Clinch Park, which in previous years were stored on sand that this week was under several inches of water.

“We’re hoping that it’s about at its maximum and that it’s going to stop,” Bensley said on a rainy Monday afternoon. “It’s made some soggy, sandy spots at the beach. Clinch Park is ... half of what it was this year.”

“I don’t have a dock. It will put me out of business if it doesn’t change.” Captain John VanDusen

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