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Explore the Unknown Facts of the Famous Boardman River

Experience the Extraordinary Beauty of the Boardman River

The Boardman River just south of Traverse City is the clearest water with incredible views. Simply float down with your favorite beverage and enjoy the view. This area of the Boardman River is simply the best for an amazing floating experience. There are plenty of places to stop and take in this natural beauty. Our job is to ensure that you're safe. Your job is to sit back, relax and have a lot of fun!

Approximately 179 miles of stream in the Boardman River Watershed, 36 of them are designated as “Blue Ribbon” trout habitat. These areas are located upstream of the Beitner Road crossing, which is a premier fish habitat and important to anglers. Boardman River anglers have an important economic impact on the region.

The entire watershed is also used for activities such as canoeing, tubing, kayaking, hiking, hunting, and bird watching. These uses make it a destination for an estimated 2 million recreational user-days annually. Call Happy Michigan Adventures for a same-day tour.

Learn More About the Natural History of the Boardman River

The Boardman River was formed after the last retreat of glaciers covering Northern Michigan, which was approximately 10,000 years ago. The proto-Boardman River was a tributary of the Manistee River and flowed south to Lake Michigan.

The course of the river changed as early headwaters streams cut through glacial deposits and joined with the proto-Boardman River. This allowed the Boardman River to flow north and empty into Grand Traverse Bay. Glacial deposits, in particular the Kalkaska series soil, are responsible for the high-quality of the Boardman River.

These sand and gravel deposits allow inputs of cold, clear groundwater and contribute to the river habitat. Trout require the higher oxygen content that the cold water provides in order to breathe.

The present-day Boardman River begins in the Mahan Swamp in Kalkaska County as the North Branch and gains large water inputs from several tributaries, including the South Branch.

They join together at the “Forks” of the Boardman near Supply Road to form the main stem of the River before emptying into the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Here, it comprises approximately 30% of the inflow to the Bay while draining approximately 182,800 acres of land.

Find Out More About the Social History of the Boardman River

Americans living in the area knew the river by another name. They valued the river as an important transportation route as well as a source of sustenance. Early European settlers called the river the “Ottawa” after the local band of Native Americans.

Things changed when Captain Harry Boardman came to the area around 1848, established a sawmill, and acquired timber rights for the area. Captain Boardman stored logs for his sawmill in a natural lake on the Ottawa River, which became known as “Boardman’s Lake.”

In time, the entire river became known as the “Boardman River.” In 1852, Captain Boardman sold his timber rights to the real timber barons of time, Perry Hanna, and Tracy Lay. The Boardman River played a vital role in the economic growth of the region as it was cleared of debris in order to drive logs downriver to the mills.

This process fueled a growing city, but was devastating to the river’s aquatic habitat, contributing to the extirpation of Michigan Grayling in the river. After the logging era, several dams were constructed to provide power for the growing needs of Traverse City.

These hydroelectric dams originally supplied a large percentage of the city’s electrical needs, but this declined over time. Before being decommissioned in 2005, these dams only provided 3.4% of the power used by Traverse City Light & Power customers each year.

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