Habitat Restoration in Great Lakes Areas of Concern: Muskegon Lake

NOAA-GLC Regional Habitat Restoration Partnership

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are leading efforts to restore several critical Great Lakes Areas of Concern (AOCs) — the worst “toxic hotspots” in the region. Michigan’s Muskegon Lake was designated an AOC in 1985 due to ecological problems caused by industrial discharges, shoreline alterations and the filling of open water and coastal wetlands. Since 1992, many organizations have worked collaboratively to remediate contaminated sediments and to restore and protect fish and wildlife species and their habitats. Since 2013, the GLC has received Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding through its partnership with NOAA to implement twelve projects which are being overseen by the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission. The partnership is also funding ecological monitoring through the Grand Valley State University Annis Water Resources Center. These are the final anticipated projects necessary to complete all habitat related work at the Muskegon Lake AOC.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Provide habitat for native wildlife (fish, turtles, birds) and lake bottom communities
  • Create and soften shoreline
  • Reconnect and restore wetlands

Community Benefits:

  • Increase recreation and wildlife viewing
  • Improve water quality and ecosystem health

Economic Benefits:

  • Increase tourism and recreation opportunities
  • Increase job opportunities
  • Investment in the project has a 6-to-1 return to the local economy

Restoration in the Muskegon Lake AOC is currently being implemented at five sites: the Lower Muskegon River wetlands, Veterans Memorial Park, Heritage Landing, the Muskegon Environment Research and Education Society (MERES) Nature Preserve, and Amoco. Additional monitoring is being implemented at several sites along the Muskegon Lake coastline. These activities are being funded through the 2016 and 2019 NOAA-GLC Partnerships. Previous restoration took place at four sites: Bear Creek, Veterans Memorial Park, the Lower Muskegon Wetlands and in Muskegon Lake. These activities were funded through the 2013 NOAA-GLC Partnership. 

Muskegon Lake Restoration

The lower Muskegon River watershed is a unique drowned river mouth that flows into Lake Michigan at a shoreline that is part of the world’s largest assemblage of freshwater sand dunes. Until restoration was undertaken, historic sawmill debris, foundry sand and slag filled 798 acres, or 25%, of Muskegon Lake’s open water and emergent wetlands and 74% of the shoreline was hardened with wood pilings, sheet metal and concrete. The NOAA-GLC partnership recently completed and is currently working on projects to remove nearly 26 acres of sediment and mill debris, create and soften 7000 feet of shoreline, re-establish fish passage, and hydrologically reconnect and restore more than 65 acres of emergent wetlands and 44 acres of open water wetlands. This restoration will provide habitat for native fish, turtles, frogs, songbirds, mammals, migrating birds and waterfowl including native lake bottom communities. The GLC is working with the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, the Grand Valley State-Annis Water Resources Institute, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other project partners to complete this work.

This project demonstrates the benefits of ecological restoration on community revitalization; a 2011 study by Grand Valley State University determined that over 15 years, dollars invested in restoration would result in a 6-to-1 return to the local economy. These economic benefits have already been felt through an uptick in local tourism, recreation and job creation. A follow-up socioeconomic study was implemented by Grand Valley State University and published in 2019.  This study confirmed much of the results of the 2011 study and found an estimated 485,000 additional annual visits to the lake following restoration, an 11% increase, and a total value of increased home values due to shoreline restoration estimated at $7.9 million. The total value of additional recreation following restoration was estimated at $27.9 million annually, this represents an estimated 4% increase annually for Muskegon County.

Project Partners


Approximately $25 million has been awarded to these projects by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  GLRI is a federal program designed to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world — the Great Lakes.  The project funding was provided via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) through a Regional Partnership with the Great Lakes Commission.

For More Information

Eric Ellis
Coastal Conservation and Habitat Restoration
Project Manager
Great Lakes Commission
[email protected]

Kathy Evans
Project Manager
West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission
231-722-7878 x 17
[email protected]

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