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For the second year in a row, the Platte River mouth will not be dredged to deepen its channel into Lake Michigan during the fall fishing season. With lake levels up and funding down, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Lakeshore) is not planning to direct scarce resources toward dredging. In addition, the Lakeshore was hard hit by the August 2 windstorm, and its equipment operators will be directed toward storm recovery efforts for the next few months.
Prior to last year, the Platte had been dredged in late summer-early fall for four decades. Following storm-related fisherman deaths in Platte Bay in 1967 during the initial salmon frenzy on the Platte, dredging became an annual activity for either the Lakeshore or the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Since that time, however, salmon runs have spread to many other locations around the Lake, dramatically reducing the number of fishermen using Platte Bay. Along with fewer boats, improved weather forecasting and communications, and now, higher lake levels have greatly reduced many safety issues since those early days.
Still, the lack of dredging can make navigating the river mouth a bit tricky for larger boats or inexperienced pilots. Lakeshore Superintendent Dusty Shultz notes, “Whether shore fishing or boating, we urge visitors to use caution when fishing Platte Bay. Always track the weather forecast and be aware of other hazards inherent in boating, such as negotiating the river mouth and nearshore waters.”
Despite not dredging again this year, the Lakeshore is interested in ensuring Platte fishermen and other boaters can continue to access the big lake in the long term. The Lakeshore has secured Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding to evaluate alternative ways to provide this access, and to remove many years’ worth of dredge spoils piled on the beach at the Platte mouth. Superintendent Shultz says, “This fall or next spring, we hope to begin the public phase of planning to improve visitor access and restore natural resources at the mouth of the Platte.”