Shoreline communities and residents take note: New 5-session email class offers introductory lessons on Great Lakes coastal planning and zoning

Michigan Sea Grant Extension free resource provides needed science information, tools and resources.

The view looking down the beach on one of the Great Lakes with the water and waves on the left side and a sandy beach rising to a dune on the right.
Erosion along Lake Michigan is evidence of how dynamic the Great Lakes can be, leading to some interesting planning challenges. Photo: Todd Marsee | Michigan Sea Grant

Michigan’s more than 3,000 miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes and connecting waterways are unique resources that also bring unique challenges for the townships, villages, cities, and counties on the coast. The coastline plays an important economic, social, and cultural role and planning ­with these resources in mind is important for Michigan communities. Good planning and zoning should be based on both community input and analysis of current information and science. The Great Lakes Coastal Planning & Zoning Email Course from Michigan Sea Grant was created to help communities connect to science information, tools, and resources to help them make informed decisions.

Gaps in planning exist

Research published in the journal Land Use Policy has shown that many coastal communities in Michigan do not expressly plan for their shorelines. Communities give many reasons for these gaps in planning such as a lack of local capacity, fear over pushback from coastal landowners, and a reliance on the state to address coastal issues.

A 2021 needs assessment survey of coastal jurisdictions in the United States and Canada by the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative found that 95% of respondents were either highly or moderately concerned about coastal issues and 99% of respondents reported either consistent or increasing public concern over these issues. The survey also found that 90% of participants were willing to participant in coastal management professional development. A majority of respondents stated their preference to receive information form websites and newsletters compared to more traditional formats like a conference or virtual training. Even if communities are not explicitly planning for coastal issues, they are on the minds of leaders and residents alike.

Free easy-to-access course

The Michigan Sea Grant Great Lakes Coastal Planning & Zoning Email Course is an opportunity for coastal land use decision makers and interested residents to learn about Michigan’s Great Lakes shorelines as well as how their communities can plan and zone for those shorelines. The course is free and easy to access via email. This five-session course is meant as an introduction to coastal planning and zoning topics of interest. Each lesson provides general information supplemented with plenty of links to more content to explore.

Once you have registered, the first email lesson will be sent to you. You will receive one lesson a week for five weeks. The lessons consist of a key topic overview with links to additional content and resources. The outline includes:

  • Lesson 1: Introduction to course & Coastal Processes of the Great Lakes
    • Lesson 1 orients learners to the course format and introduces the physical process that shape the Great Lakes and its coasts.
  • Lesson 2: Legal Framework for Shoreline Planning and Zoning
    • Lesson 2 reviews relevant Michigan statutes for planning and zoning as well as some statutes specific to land use in coastal areas.
  • Lesson 3: Planning for Shorelines
    • Planning for a dynamic resource like the Great Lakes shoreline can be challenging. Lesson 3 introduces some strategies to create impactful plans.
  • Lesson 4: Zoning Tools for Coastal Communities
    • Lesson 4 covers policy tools available to coastal communities as they work to implement shoreline plans.
  • Lesson 5: Continuing Your Learning
    • The course concludes with a lesson filled with additional resources and learning opportunities.

Interested in taking the class?

Register for the Great Lakes Coastal Planning & Zoning Email Course online.

We hope you will enjoy this email course and learn about Michigan’s Great Lakes shorelines and their use. If you have any questions during or after the course please contact Tyler Augst ( or a Michigan Sea Grant Staff member near you.

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 34 university-based programs.

This article was prepared by Extension educator Tyler Augst, in part under Michigan Sea Grant award NA180AR4170102 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statement, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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