Healthy Shorelines

Healthy Shorelines = Healthy Waters

A healthy shoreline is one in which native trees and plants — both aquatic and near-the-shore — provide an environment supporting a diverse community of fish and wildlife such as birds and butterflies. Native vegetation is critical to water quality because it slows and filters water runoff, as it flows toward lakes and streams. Shorelines with a diverse mix of native plants extending inland as well as offshore of the bank are more resilient to wave and ice erosion.

Good shoreland management requires the protection of vegetation in shore impact zones, steep slopes and bluff areas. Consider the benefits:

  • Minimizing of the erosive impact of raindrops.
  • Limiting soil erosion from surface runoff. This is especially important during the more frequent high-velocity storms that readily erode soils.
  • Removing nutrients in runoff which can degrade water quality.
  • Binding and strengthening the soil column with deep, dense roots which prevent and reduce the likelihood of bank or slope failure. Lawn grass typically has very short roots, less capable of reducing runoff.
  • Providing diverse fish and wildlife habitat.
  • Providing privacy and screens to shoreland development.
  • Providing natural and aesthetic views.
  • Reducing erosion by protecting banks from wave energy.

What can riparians do?

Photographic footage and analysis of an ESLA-commissioned 2021 drone survey of Elk and Skegemog lakes and the Torch River has helped our non-profit develop program and educational strategies to improve our greenbelts and buffer zones. We communicated in newsletters and emails the importance of maintaining or developing a native plant buffer of 10’ to 25’ from the water’s edge. While some riparians believe mowed grass lawns to the shoreline are effective, research is clear that short-rooted grasses don’t provide nearly the benefits of deep-rooted native plants and trees. ESLA also encourages riparians to take the Michigan Shorelines Stewards Program Survey. It’s a simple way to see how your shoreline stacks up against the ideal.  Click the link to take the survey:

In 2022, ESLA began offering consultations to its dues-paying members who express interest in improving their shorelines.  Consultations may be scheduled by contacting ESLA at

In 2023, ESLA hosted its first Greenbelt Workshop. The workshop was led by ESLA’s Lake Biologist Samantha Ogle.  In addition to explaining the basics and definitions of buffer zones, four local professionals discussed strategies and took questions on the critical areas between the water and lawns.  Many informational booklets were available as hand-outs. The workshop was videotaped and is available on ESLA’s YouTube channel, along with videos on many other issues. Like the personal consultations, greenbelt workshops will be offered every summer. The best way to learn when and where future workshops will be held is to make sure you get ESLA’s email blasts. Send an email to to be added to our list.

Watch the 2023 workshop at: