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Michigan's Resilient Coast

Fresh Coast Best Coast with Outline of the Great Lakes
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Michigan's Resilient Coast

Living on the nation's longest freshwater coastline

Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes and we are the stewards of the nation’s longest freshwater coastline (e.g., 3,288 linear miles). Michigan’s coast accounts for approximately 62% of the total coastline of the Great Lakes basin (8 US states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Our coast is highly diverse, including warm sandy beaches and dunes, rocky cliffs and bluffs, and vast coastal wetlands. 

Michigan has approximately 387 coastal communities that border the coast. Michigan’s coastal communities need creative and adaptive solutions when addressing the challenges associated with the unpredictability of the Great Lakes water levels, increased storm intensities and frequency as result of climate change.

Community resilience is defined as the sustained ability of a community to understand and use available resources to respond to, withstand, and recover from adverse situations.

Resilient Communities are those that are prepared to withstand and recover from Great Lakes coastal erosion and flooding events.  Through resilient planning, a coastal community can prepare itself to absorb and adapt to changes in Great Lakes water levels, coastal storms and floods; manage social and environmental changes; and build a better and more reliable local economy.


Ronda Wuycheck, Coastal Program Manager

Adam Arend, Coastal Community Coordinator

Vacant, Public Access Coordinator

Emily Kirkpatrick, Coastal Hazards Coordinator

Melissa Letosky, Coastal Waters Coordinator

Dave Schuberg, Coastal Habitat Coordinator

The Pathway to Resilience

The Michigan Coastal Management Program (MCMP) is building the Pathway to Resilience to enhance community preparedness and promote resiliency to mitigate the impacts of coastal hazards through increased knowledge of the risks, wise planning and zoning, and capacity building. The goal is for communities to be equipped with planning and data tools to effectively plan for growth and change; install practices and policies that protect, preserve, restore, enhance, and wisely develop coastal areas; and create networks for the collective impact of effective coastal management. Following are actions coastal communities can take to become a Resilient-Ready Coastal Community:

  • Participate in an MCMP Coastal Leadership Academy training.
  • Conduct a vulnerability assessment to identify gaps and recommendations.
  • Update a community Master Plan with a Resilient Chapter that is formally adopted via Michigan law.
  • Adopt resilient policies and ordinances such as setbacks and no-build zones adopted via Michigan law.
  • Install nature-based alternatives that respect riparian rights and protect Public Trust.

Coastal Leadership Academy

The Coastal Leadership Academy, a free technical training opportunity delivered by MCMP staff and open to coastal communities throughout the State of Michigan.  Each module is a one-day educational workshop appropriate for local government staff, community planners, elected officials, planning commission members, and other interested parties.  The workshops are an opportunity for communities to come together to share their coastal challenges and learn about widely available resiliency tools to help plan for future conditions.

The Coastal Leadership Academy is made up of following three training modules:

  1. Scenario-based Planning & Zoning Module.  Using the Resilient Coastal Communities Planning Guide as its foundation, this module walks through resources and resilient principles that can be incorporated into community planning documents.
  2. Nature-based Solutions to Reduce Coastal Risks Module.  This module helps communities identify and plot out solutions focusing on natural infrastructure adaptations to manage the coastal risks unique to communities.
  3. Adaptation Strategies for Coastal Hazards Module.  This module is currently in the development phase and will focus on guidance and resources to provide alternatives to hardened shorelines.

Contact one of the MCMP staff to find out more.

What is a Nature-Based Solution?

Nature-based solutions refer to best practices that are supported by nature and offer environmental, economic, and social benefits while increasing resiliency. Nature-based solutions are a type of resiliency strategy that can enhance a coastal community’s existing infrastructure or protect their natural areas. Implementation strategies for nature-based solutions can vary. Choosing a solution depends on several factors including the nature and extent of the coastal hazard to be addressed, land use planning, site restraints, funding, and more. The following are examples of practices that utilize nature-based solutions:

  • Habitat restoration, including dune and wetland restoration.
  • Green infrastructure to slow the flow of storm water.
  • Creative accommodation and protection practices.

Building Coastal Resilience

The first step to become a Resilient-Ready Coastal Community is to ask if your community has the sustained ability to adapt and recover from the many forces of living on Michigan’s coast. It is important for local officials and coastal property owners to make wise decisions for responding to and recovering from the negative impacts of coastal hazards.

Watch this 6-part video series to learn how your community can build resilience.

Introduction to the Michigan Coastline

The lakes define us.  Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline in the nation, with expansive sand dune systems and wetland complexes.  Our highly dynamic coastline is shaped by patterns of sand accretion, erosion, and transport.  These processes are driven by water level fluctuations, storm waves, currents, winds, and ice.  Even though we wish our favorite coastal spot looked the same each time we visit, these forces continually work to evolve it.

The Impacts of Water Levels and Weather

The water balance within the Great Lakes Basin involves several key factors that account for water input and output influenced by seasonal weather patterns and long-term climatic changes. Learn how the weather, climate, regional water budget, lake levels, and coastal processes influence our coastline. 

Protecting the Coast for Everyone

The State of Michigan holds the Great Lakes coastline “in the public trust,” in accordance with the Public Trust Doctrine.  Under this doctrine, the state owns the lands that are submerged under the Great Lakes.  Private shoreline property extends to the water’s edge and is called a “movable freehold” because the location of the line changes with the lake levels.  The Public Trust Doctrine provides the public the right to walk along the shoreline below the ordinary high water mark.

Data and Tools for Making Informed Decisions

Understanding the influence of water levels, waves, and storms on shorelines over time is key to the successful protection of Michigan’s coastal resources. Several state and federal specialized data resources have been developed to help local community leaders make informed decisions. The MCMP has invested in the development of the Great Lakes Shorelines Through Time tool that serves as a useful introduction to the dynamic coast. Knowing and utilizing data tools is critical for scenario-based planning for resiliency.

Adaptation Strategies

Our lakes define us. Michigan is the steward of over two thirds of the Great Lakes coastline – we are truly the Great Lakes State! Take the next step to coastal resilience and learn how to promote wise development on the coast through adaptation strategies that protect, accommodate, and sometimes retreat from the coastline.

Planning for a Resilient Future

Learn how to develop resilient master plans and policies that best fit your coastal community.  A variety of tools are available to help local units of government become more resilient to living on the coast.  Many communities are conducting analyses to see how they are vulnerable to forces such as erosion and flooding.  Some of the most prominent tools to address coastal hazards include local master plans and zoning ordinances.  Becoming a Resilient-Ready Coastal Community can provide space for beaches and dunes to migrate naturally while observing the flooding and erosion impacts.