Au Gres develops a new vision for a premier waterfront

Project team helps community to plan for Au Gres 2035

Envisioned waterfront at Au Gres mooring facility (depicting universal access, beach play area and water playscape.) Illustration credit: Rachel Pieschek, Lawrence Technological University
Envisioned waterfront at Au Gres mooring facility (depicting universal access, beach play area and water playscape.) Illustration credit: Rachel Pieschek, Lawrence Technological University

Saginaw Bay is one of the sometimes hidden treasures within the state of Michigan and the rest of Lake Huron. Yet, this watery space between the thumb of Michigan and the rest of the “mitten” directly touches five of Michigan’s 83 counties: Iosco, Arenac, Bay, Tuscola and Huron. The water entering the Saginaw Bay drains an amazing 15 percent of Michigan’s total land area from all or parts of 22 counties - the largest watershed in the state. Numerous communities with small harbors exist on the five direct coastal counties and provide access to the world-class walleye, perch, and other fisheries and other natural resources along Saginaw Bay.

Au Gres, Michigan, is one such city along the northern edge of Saginaw Bay in Arenac County. One of the key assets in Au Gres is the largest boat launch in all Saginaw Bay, located at the mouth of the Au Gres River. Eight boats can launch simultaneously at this Michigan Department of Natural Resources facility which has over 300 spaces for vehicles and trailers, allowing fishers from all over the Midwest to put-in and head out to fish nearby for walleye and other species. The Point Lookout pier and channel lights make it easy to find your way back to the mouth of the Au Gres River after catching your fish. While the facilities can be packed full during fishing tournaments, much of the rest of the year these facilities are not busy. The city of Au Gres would like to encourage tourism and sustainable economic growth, optimizing use of this DNR facility as well as some other key city assets such the Au Gres City Park & Riverfront Campground.

In early 2015, The City was accepted to be part of the Sustainable Small Harbor Management Strategy Project. For this project, the Au Gres community became heavily engaged with a project team from Lawrence Technological University ,  including consulting, economic and industry experts plus support from Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, Michigan Department of Natural Resources-Waterways Commission, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality-Office of the Great Lakes, and Michigan State Housing Development Authority. The project team was able to conduct an initial community vision meeting in August, 2015; an intense three-day charrette in September 2015, and just recently returned to make a final presentation to a special session of the City Council on Dec. 1, 2015.

An initial community vision, entitled Au Gres 2035, emerged from the tremendous community participation with the team. Elements of this vision include some improvements at the Riverfront Campground; a complete-street Boulevard design for US-23 in the city; a possible visitor center, beach play area, fishing access and climbing tower at the mooring facility; and other enhancements at the DNR boat launch and breakwater area.

The work with Au Gres continues into 2016 where, along with similar work in New Baltimore, Pentwater, and Ontonagon the project team will garner transferrable lessons for a project toolkit being developed to share with other coastal communities. It is hoped the various placemaking strategies and economic analyses developed for Au Gres will assist other small harbors in Michigan and the Great Lakes to be successful, prosperous and sustainable.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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