Lake Leelanau Shoreline

Shoreline Protection and the Benefits of Natural Shorelines

Shorelines are critical transition areas from land to water — the natural shoreline protects the lake and provides a habitat for fish and wildlife. The LLLA and its lake stewards are committed to protecting Lake Leelanau’s natural shoreline and educating lakeside homeowners on how they can join the effort. The following provides information on shoreline protection and the benefits of natural shorelines.

It is estimated that approximately 50% of Michigan’s near-shore lake habitat is in poor condition. Much university research, local water quality monitoring, and field surveys have sought to establish the extent of the problem areas.

Recent aerial drone data collected by our Association and our collaborator, Zero Gravity Aerials, indicates much of Lake Leelanau’s shoreline remains somewhat natural. However, there appears to be a notable loss of vegetation at the water’s edge. Parcel by parcel development, replacement of wet areas with lawns, and related development pressure suggest that our current good measures for water quality and fishing will decline over time.

On the other hand, a matrix of solutions is being adopted and employed at the local level. These solutions address lake water quality improvements, habitat loss, and shoreline erosion concerns. One of the best solutions yet includes enhancing or installing bioengineered natural vegetative shorelines. Initiatives are also creating vegetative buffers on populated inland lakes.

What is Affecting Lake Leelanau’s Shoreline?

Lakeside homeownership comes with the responsibility of implementing simple best-management practices for protecting Lake Leelanau's shoreline. Thoughtful owners that follow these practices can have a positive impact, while not following these simple practices can negatively impact our shorelines. 

Here are some examples:

  • Mowing the lawn to the water’s edge often means faster movement of sediments, fertilizers, animal feces, fuel remnants, and pesticides/pollutants into the lake.  
  • Typically, yard grasses are short-rooted, leading to direct shoreline erosion. 
  • Clearing deep-rooted native plant material at the shoreline removes habitat and movement corridors for native pollinators and other small wildlife.
A graphic showing shoreline protection best practices for lakeside homeowners

How Can We Protect Our Shoreline?

Best management practices as published by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) include:

  • Reducing home use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers;
  • Designing retention methods for stormwater moving towards the lake;
  • Creating a “buffer zone” (measured up to 35 feet from the water’s edge, where practical) with trees, shrubs, and wildflowers to replace lawn areas;
  • Using bio-engineering designs, such as installing coir logs and planting native aquatic vegetation, for significant shoreline erosion challenges; and
  • Keeping near-shore woody structures and native aquatic plants in place.

The Benefits of Natural Shorelines

While there are many benefits, shoreline contractors estimate about half of riparian property owners may not lean toward a natural shoreline project. Reasons for having less interest may include permit considerations and applications, costs for construction, viewshed impacts, and maintenance time.

Generally, permit considerations should be reviewed before starting any home project, shoreline improvements included. You will find the rules are straightforward, and using best management practices tends to achieve short-term approvals. Construction costs are site-specific and may be higher where high wave energy and significant shoreline erosion are already occurring. We strongly recommend working with a Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership Certified Contractor. These contractors have been trained in applying the best management practices for natural shorelines and can often help with the permitting process for shoreline modifications.

Planting deep-rooted native vegetation and proper gardening care to establish growth in the first couple of years are typical approaches for many shoreline sites. Riparians cherish their views of Lake Leelanau and generally are adamant about keeping them “as is.” Some have found that working with a designer or landscaper serves to recognize view enhancements with organized plantings, walkways, and passages. Similar to time requirements for mowing grass or gardening, plantings for natural shorelines generally require regular maintenance. Speak with your sources of new plant materials for the colors, sizing, sun/shading preferences, and pruning needs that make sense for you.

Shoreline Protection Resources

Sources of information regarding the benefits of shoreline improvements are plentiful. In addition to EGLE, we recommend reviewing the following resources:

These shoreline protection resources, among others, include easy-to-understand references, online seminars, ideas on construction materials and design concepts, native plant lists, before and after installation photos, and directions to visit several nearby demonstration sites for a closer look.

Should you have any questions about shoreline protection, please, contact LLLA’s Lake Steward Ambassador, Nancy Popa, at 231-944-9509 or [email protected] to get started.

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