About 200 species of birds, like this heron, use Ford Cove and the surrounding area.

About 200 species of birds, like this heron, use Ford Cove and the surrounding area.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House


Ford House study could lead to a raft of natural shoreline improvements

By: K. Michelle Moran, Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published February 8, 2021

 Softer, more natural shoreline changes to Ford Cove would create better habitat for creatures like turtles to rear their young.

Softer, more natural shoreline changes to Ford Cove would create better habitat for creatures like turtles to rear their young.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

 A study this spring will determine what types of improvements might be made to Ford Cove to make it more welcoming to a range of birds, fish and other wildlife.

A study this spring will determine what types of improvements might be made to Ford Cove to make it more welcoming to a range of birds, fish and other wildlife.

Photo provided by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES/ST. CLAIR SHORES — A feasibility study this spring at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House could lead to a more natural restoration of the shoreline.

The historic estate on Lake St. Clair, whose 87 acres straddle Wayne and Macomb counties, has partnered with the Great Lakes Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the shoreline and wildlife habitats around Ford Cove. The Ford Cove Shoreline and Coastal Wetland Restoration Project, as it’s being called, could remove the seawalls and broken concrete to reduce powerful wave action and replace hard, manmade surfaces with native plants that would create a more conducive environment for fish, birds, mussels, turtles, snakes and other wildlife to feed and raise their young.

The feasibility study, slated to start in the spring, will assess a proposal by the Ford House, GLC, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division and Macomb County’s Planning and Economic Development Department, Parks and Natural Resources Division. Ford House officials say the study — to be executed by Michigan-based OHM Advisors — will cover about a mile of shoreline and roughly 17 acres of adjacent coastal marsh; it will consist of preliminary hydrologic and hydraulic modeling, as well as baseline geotechnical, chemical and ecological evaluations.

“The goals of the study are to get all of this data to determine what kind of restoration we can do to have the best benefit,” Ford House Invasive Species and Woodland Specialist Kevin Drotos said.

Eric Ellis, coastal conservation and habitat restoration program project manager for the GLC, said the project would improve the forested wetlands and restore coastal marshland to the area, creating more habitats for native fish and wildlife species.

“It’s also in an area where there’s been so much development,” he said.

Macomb County only has 2,140 linear feet of coastline that remains in its natural state. The remaining 31.5 miles of shoreline include 10,000 boat slips and 50 marinas, plus seawalls.

“If you’re a fish or an eastern fox snake that’s just going about its life, trying to move about the area, if there’s no place to stop, no habitat, you either have to keep going or that place becomes challenging for fish and wildlife to live,” Ellis explained.

The GLC represents, advises and assists the eight Great Lakes states and its associate members, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, by fostering dialogue, facilitating collaboration and developing consensus to advance interests and responsibilities to ensure economic prosperity and environmental protection with a balanced and sustainable use of Great Lakes — St. Lawrence River basin water resources.

Improving the habitat for fish and wildlife also improves the quality of life for those in the area, creating better places for fishing, wildlife and bird watching. 

The feasibility study is the first step in the restoration process and will take a look at how flooding and other shoreline issues would be impacted by any future plans.

“We don’t have an entirely clear picture yet, (but) high water levels and waves crashing over seawalls — part of what we’re going to be looking at with this design is putting some structures offshore, which will basically slow down the wave action and reduce some of that erosion effect on the shoreline,” he said. “If you have this low-energy habitat, it helps them, so it’s addressing multiple issues with one activity.”

He said boaters could be assured, however, that anything put into the water for restoration purposes would follow all U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines and permitting processes, and all safety precautions would be put in place to alert boaters to any type of structure. The goal, though, isn’t to block off the coast for recreational use. On the contrary — Ellis said any changes should benefit use of the area with “more things to fish around and things to look at.”

“We’re going to have public meetings associated with the project, so we’ll be reaching out to boating groups and talking to them. We don’t want to put something in there that’s going to cause a lot of problems. We fully anticipate that people are still going to boat in there and they’ll be able to — it’s not getting blocked off.”

The addition of native plants won’t block the view of the water and should actually enhance the appearance of the shoreline, Drotos said.

“It’s going to change the landscape a lot,” Drotos said. “It should bring a bigger diversity of animals (to the area).”

The feasibility study will take approximately 18 months to complete, and then, provided that the project is deemed feasible, they will begin working with local partners, state and local agencies to develop a conceptual design and find funding to get engineering work done.

NOAA listed the project as one of the top three priority coastal restoration projects in Michigan in November 2019. A variety of Great Lakes species could potentially benefit from a restoration of the area, including northern pike, muskellunge, smallmouth and largemouth bass and yellow perch, along with various species of minnows and panfish. There should also be significant habitat gains for mudpuppy and eastern fox snakes, as well as support of fish hosts for various native freshwater mussels.

“There’s a lot of high-value ecological (gains) that can be met here, and it will be right in everyone’s backyard to enjoy,” Ellis said.

The feasibility study cost is $230,634. The Ford House is providing a $3,000 match, but the bulk of that cost is being borne by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through a regional collaboration between the GLC and NOAA.

One of the purposes of the study is to determine what it would cost to undertake shoreline restoration. Although those costs won’t be evident until the study is complete, Drotos said they would “definitely be in the millions.” If a restoration project does get approved, he said NOAA would likely provide funding, because the benefits would be far-reaching and impact endangered birds, fish and other flora and fauna.

“It is public funds, but it’s for public (purposes)…. The goal is to restore this natural area to a functioning piece of land,” Drotos said. Not only are Ford House grounds open to the public, but the plants and animals the grounds support don’t just stay there. For example, Drotos said restoration could create a new fish spawning habitat, which would be beneficial to local fisheries as well as individual anglers.

“We are both excited and honored to be a partner for this important restoration project and extremely grateful for the opportunity to be better stewards of Ford Cove and its shoreline,” Ford House President and CEO Mark J. Heppner said by email. “The cove was special to the Ford family, just as it is a special place to our visitors today. This project supports our commitment to sustainability and the environment, aligning with our new, green buildings; our rainwater runoff management program; our recycling initiatives; and our eco-friendly practices. We believe that everyone has a role helping the environment, and we know that this project will have a significant impact on our wildlife for generations to come.”

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