Michigan’s rural landscape is developing rapidly. In the absence of statewide zoning regulations, riparians with homes or cottages on Michigan’s streams and rivers can build and develop the land along those streambanks with varying (and sometimes very few) restrictions. Although the Natural Rivers Program has been around for a long time, no stream in Michigan has been proposed for designation since before 1988.
The good news is that there is a renewed interest in getting at least two rivers in Michigan designated as “Natural Rivers”. Plans have been drawn up for the Pine River and the Manistee River. Essentially, a “natural river” designation is about zoning. It regulates the kind of building or development landowners can do within given distances from the streambank. For instance, on the Pine River, the proposed plan calls for a native vegetation buffer of 100 feet from the water’s edge; landowners may not clear-cut the trees and brush, but may trim for a filtered view; new buildings must be set back 150 feet from the water; and lots must be 80,000 square feet (about 1.8 acres) and feature 200 feet of frontage.
Studies have shown that Natural River designation actually improves property values. All in all, “natural river designation is trying to find a balance between resource protection and meaningful use of private property”, said Steve Sutton, Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) Natural Rivers Program.