• Start-up
  • Planning
  • Action
  • Evaluation

Ford House and partners incorporated climate considerations into restoration planning of 1 mile of currently hardened Lake Saint Clair coastline, and over 17 acres of adjacent marsh, nearshore habitat, and forested wetlands. 

One of few opportunities for large-scale shoreline restorations on the U.S. side of Lake St. Clair, this project aims to restore a living shoreline with improved nearshore habitat, coastal marsh, and inland wetland habitats. The team used the Adaptation Workbook and the Great Lakes adaptation menu of strategies and approaches to consider vulnerabilities from climate change and to explore adaptation actions that may help the project area cope with changes over time. More rapid and extreme fluctuations in water levels and higher wave heights brought about by climate change were of primary concern for the future of the planned habitat restoration.

Project Area

Ford Cover aerial view (provided by Edsel and Eleanor Ford House)
The Ford Cove Shoreline and Coastal Wetland Restoration Project is located on Lake St. Clair, and is part of the Ford House, the historic estate of Edsel and Eleanor Ford. Ford Cove provides coastal habitat within an area that has experienced significant development of the lakefront property. Less than 0.1% of Lake St. Clair’s shoreline remains in a natural condition. Ford Cove is a unique natural area used by roughly 200 species of birds and other wildlife, however, the site has not had a natural shoreline for decades and is currently hardened with crushed concrete. A planned restoration in partnership with the Ford House, led by the Great Lakes Commission; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR); Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); and OHM Advisors engineers seeks to return this shoreline and nearshore area to a natural state. The restoration will remove hard features like broken concrete and seawalls, and reintroduce native plant species and naturalized shorelines to the site. The site-wide ecological restoration will benefit a wide diversity of species by improving habitat and forage for fish, herps, waterfowl, and invertebrates. The project is helping achieve priority objectives for coastal wetland restoration and shoreline softening set by the St. Clair-Detroit River System Initiative (www.scdrs.org). The Ford Cove Shoreline and Coastal Wetland Restoration project was also identified as a Michigan priority coastal restoration project under NOAA’s Great Lakes Coastal and Nearshore Habitat Assessment Project and is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the Environmental Protection Agency and a NOAA/GLC Regional Partnership.

Management Goals

Heron at Ford Cove (provided by Edsel and Eleanor Ford House)

Goal 1: Restore Ford Cove Great Lakes shoreline to a natural soft shoreline able to cope with wave action.

Objective 1.1: Remove 1 mile of hardened shoreline and replace it with natural features.


Goal 2. Restore Ford Cove to support a wide diversity of species and to improve aquatic habitat.

Objective 2.1. Improve nursery habitat, cover, and forage for fish, herps, waterfowl, and invertebrates through the restoration of various ecosystems: 5.5 acres coastal marsh, 8 acres nearshore habitat and 4 acres forested wetland.

Climate Change Impacts

For this project, the most important anticipated climate change impacts include:

  • Increasingly variable year-to-year precipitation, strong storms and effects from combined sewer outflows (CSOs) in the area.
  • Rapid and extreme fluctuations in lake levels: Higher lake levels, increased wave heights, more frequent breaching, as well as lower lake levels, and extended drought.
  • Warming climate and altered precipitation patterns may contribute to reduced water quality and aquatic habitat (warmer lake temperatures, nutrient loading, bacteria).
  • Changing habitat suitability for native vegetation and animal species (aquatic and terrestrial).
  • Climate change may amplify existing stressors to the ecosystems such as contributing to the expansion of invasive species at the site.

Challenges and Opportunities

Climate change will present challenges and opportunities for accomplishing the management objectives of this project, including:


Fluctuating water levels and increased wave energy make it more challenging to design and maintain a natural shoreline and viable habitat that can cope with these changes.
The size of the site and constraints of the space may hinder the capacity of species to move and migrate around the site in response to water level fluctuations and changes over time
Water quality may become degraded from runoff due to more intense rain events, and more frequent combined sewer overflows.
Planning for a diverse climate-adapted species mix is complex when the need is to select species with life histories traits that can tolerate a range of hydrologic conditions (dry/drought to wet/flooded).
Longer growing season and warmer temperatures may increase visitors and boaters to the site. Visitors may come in greater densities at certain times of the year (i.e., to escape the heat of the mainland) and could impact restored habitat.
Uncertainty whether regulatory agencies will approve new and novel designs.


Increasing temperatures may offer an opportunity to increase species diversity by enabling establishment of species historically present in less hardy zones. Plant establishment may be logistically easier under lower water levels.
Lower water levels may allow easier or longer construction site access during restoration, and over time limit recreational boater access.
Seasonal flooded conditions due to increased heavy rain events may reduce visitation to certain areas of the island, helping to reduce impact to restored habitats.
Warmer winters may reduce ice push from the lake and subsequent scour of the restored shoreline.
Higher water levels and increased wave energy may, with proper design consideration and planning, flush excess sediment out of the cove.
Longer growing season may bring migratory species to the site, enhancing wildlife population and diversity of species using the site. Snakes may also benefit from a longer growing season.
Increased temperatures and longer growing season may provide better habitat for warmwater fish, promote faster growth and survival of juvenile fish and increase catch sizes for recreational anglers.

Adaptation Actions

Ford Cove Shoreline and Coastal Wetland Restoration project participants used the Adaptation Workbook and the draft menu of Great Lakes Coastal Adaptation Strategies and Approaches to develop several adaptation actions for this project, including:

A table of selected adaptation strategies and approaches


Project participants identified several monitoring items that could help inform future management, including:
Continue baseline monitoring efforts completed by Ford House, MI DNR, citizen monitoring (e.g., Audubon Society’s ebird database), and on-site environmental education, and leverage those efforts to inform evaluation of effectiveness of adaptation efforts.
Conduct submerged aquatic vegetation percent coverage (native, non-native, future-adapted natives), and floristic quality.
Conduct macroinvertebrate surveys accounting for the number and distribution of macroinvertebrates.
Observe survival and coverage of seeded and planted species, and measure floristic quality in restored areas including vernal ponds.
Monitor terrestrial wildlife in nearshore habitat, including herptiles at established vernal ponds.
Monitor fish populations and community assemblages noting differences in population after restoration and over time.

Next Steps

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