Leland's Fishtown struggles to cope with rising water

John L. Russell
Special to The Detroit News
View Comments
Amanda Holmes, executive director of the Fishtown Preservation Society, stands on a boardwalk Friday in Leland's Fishtown, which is reaching near-record water levels.

Leland — Amanda Holmes is aware of the rising waters on Lake Michigan and is nervously watching her beloved Fishtown as it suffers from near-record water levels.

Holmes, executive director of the Fishtown Preservation Society, has seen water  flood three shanties along the Leland River, and watches as heavy rain, seiches — standing waves caused by pressure on a body of water — and westerly winds push water over the docks and into buildings along the iconic boardwalks.

“We have three ways for the water level to change,” Holmes said Friday. “Rain, wind and atmospheric pressure can cause the water to rise in minutes.”

Some boardwalks are under water in Leland's Fishtown, which faces near-record water levels, fed by Lake Michigan.

More than 300,000 visitors come to Leland during the year to shop, enjoy the Lake Michigan beaches and visit Fishtown, according to estimates.   

The society began planning to purchase Fishtown in 2006 and worked out a deal that saved the iconic village from being developed. “For $2.7 million, we purchased the land, 10 shanties, two fishing tugs and boardwalks,” said Holmes.

Through fundraising and donations, the popular tourist area was saved and the mortgage was paid in full this past winter. 

Concerns about flooding and its effect on local businesses and tourism began to surface in May. That month, nearby Traverse City had its sixth-wettest May in history, with 4.67 inches of rain, 1.67 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Leland's Fishtown, where some shanties along the iconic river have been close to flooding this spring, is threatened by Lake Michigan's ever-increasing water levels.

“We realized we were going to have problems with the high water and have begun implementing plans to save the shanty that is now in water," Holmes said. "Last January the estimates to move the building and place seawalls and pilings was just under $115,00. Now we expect that figure to be higher.”

Any work to be done will begin this fall. The society hopes to secure matching grants by mid-October.

“We don’t want people to think we’re helpless with the water issues," Holmes said. "We’ll be fine.”

John L. Russell is a writer and photojournalist in Traverse City.

View Comments