Local Resident Works to Save Portage Lake’s Remaining Natural Shoreline

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Craig Kivi doesn’t want to be pigeon-holed as an environmental extremist. “Let’s have fun on the lake. That’s not going to stop. But let’s also pay attention to its impact and do something about it while we still can.”

By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

“They’re not wrong,” says Craig Kivi about the big-wave boaters on Portage Lake in Pinckney. “The impact of these big waves on the natural habitat is not a good person/bad person issue.”

Craig owns Golden Drake Realty and has purchased the remaining natural shoreline on the popular recreational lake, intent on preserving it. He is a different kind of environmentalist in that he gets the other side’s view. He just wants to let people know what's happening to the lake. To help with that, Craig took me on a tour of what he is doing to preserve Portage Lake.

Craig has purchased the remaining 2,700 feet of natural shoreline on Pinckney’s Portage Lake with the intent of preserving it for the health of the lake.

He is placing barriers to protect the 12-acre wetland. Craig and the volunteers who help him put down stumps, logs, and other natural obstacles that take the brunt of the wave energy before it strikes the shore. Craig has spent his life on Portage Lake and knows it well. He has seen the decline of its natural habitat, the natural habitat that fosters the lake's life.

“Listen, Doug, our culture produces these high-powered boats that create big waves for us to have fun with,” explains Craig. “It’s fun! Of course we’re going to use them! I’m not saying let’s get rid of these boats.”

Craig explains that fallen trees in the water are one way the lake regulates itself. “The water is cold. The sun heats the log, which heats the water. If we take all of that out of the water for aesthetics and all we have is contact against the shore, we’ve changed the natural dynamics of the lake’s ability to regulate temperature, which significantly affects plant and animal life.”

He deplores the shrill polarization that so often accompanies environmental issues. “Too often, both sides are yelling at each other. Neither is listening to what the other is saying.”

He continues. “Part of what I’m doing is to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got some new information about what this is doing to Portage Lake. If we act on that information now, we’ll all continue to have a beautiful lake now and in the future that we can have fun with and sustain aquatic life.’”

We glide over Portage Lake in his fishing boat towards the 9-acre section with 1,500 feet of shoreline. This is the Norman A. Wood Natural Shoreline Preserve, named after Craig’s great-grandfather. The adjacent two-acre wetland with 1,200 feet of shoreline is the Louis P. Kivi Natural Shoreline Preserve, named after Craig’s father.

“Fifty feet behind these cattails is a bog,” explains Craig. “Bogs are like a floating carpet and suck carbon out of the air like crazy. These cattails protecting the fragile bog are being torn to pieces by the waves. So, I’m under pressure to figure out something to keep the wave energy from eroding the cattails.”

He cuts the engine, and we glide closer to the wetland’s reeds. “The wave energy hitting the shoreline is an engineered wave,” explains Craig. “The shoreline has evolved over millions of years to receive natural waves from wind. We came along and designed a nuclear bomb wave that’s designed for someone to surf and didn’t think about what it does afterward.”

“The shoreline is simply defenseless against it,” he adds. “It has never seen that shock, size, or energy of a wave ever. When it hits, it just tears the hell out of it.”

Craig is no environmentalist by trade, but he is learning fast. He has some heavy hitters on his side coaching him. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the Michigan State Lake Leader have been working with him to preserve Portage Lake’s natural habitat.

A few of the stumps Craig and a small group of supporters hauled across the ice in winter to act as natural barriers against the big waves of some watercraft.

To construct the natural barriers, Craig gathers a small team of supporters in winter and transports the stumps, logs, and other material over the ice.

“Fox Pointe Homeowners Association lets us use their beach as a ramp onto the ice,” explains Craig. “We haul massive stumps with ATVs over to the shoreline and position them there.”

He estimates that his group has made 50 trips thus far. Portage Yacht Club has been instrumental in the preservation project with an estimated $30,000 of donated natural barriers and supplies. A lot of work is yet to be done. Craig wants the entire shoreline protected.

Craig suddenly reduces the throttle and points excitedly to a barrier log. He counts eight turtles sunning themselves. “See? They didn’t have that before! It keeps them away from the shore and predators.”

He points out three new muskrat houses and talks about the underwater crayfish, snails, minnows, and aquatic insects that utilize the piece of restored habitat.

“The circular formation next to the log is a fish nest,” explains Craig excitedly. “While we’re not exactly creating life, we are encouraging it.”

“That is the rush for me,” he says. “This effort is my attempt to try and restore some of their home. At some point, we’ve got to alter our culture back to what works for the natural world around us.”

I sweep my hand across the natural shoreline. “What do you think would happen if all of this went away?”

“In my opinion, Portage Lake will begin to deteriorate rapidly because this is the natural filter,” he replies. “Remove a filter from any water, and it will build up impurities and toxins. The lake will get sicker and sicker. It will be unable to keep itself healthy and sustain life.”

“And that’s just the ecology side of it,” he adds. “As a real estate broker, I’m very aware that people have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their homes on Portage Lake. If this lake gets sick and nobody wants to live here, the value drops dramatically, and the homeowners lose a lot of money. We should be paying attention to this asset. This just makes good investment sense to me.”

It’s not just an ecological issue. As a realtor selling houses on and around Portage Lake, Craig keenly understands how the lake’s health drives property values.

Preserving the natural shoreline is a legacy issue for Craig. “I’m 64, and I’ll be gone in 30 years. I’m doing this for the kids and their kids so they can enjoy this lake like I used to. I wouldn’t do this if it were just for me.”

“The issue isn’t that people on Portage Lake are doing bad stuff,” he adds. “We’re doing what we’ve been taught. We only know what we know at the time, but we continue to discover and learn new information that can move us forward in a better way. That’s what I’m working at.”

Listening to Craig talk reminded me of something Bobby Kennedy said. “Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and in the total of all these acts will be written the history of this generation.”

The future is largely determined by the small things we do today.

To administrate the preservation effort, Craig has set up “Natural Shorelines Forever,” a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization with a focus on natural shoreline and wetland conservation and preservation. Donations are tax-deductible.

To learn more about Natural Shorelines Forever and the preservation of Portage Lake’s natural shoreline, visit https://naturalshorelines.com/

Photos by Doug Marrin

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