Beach tilling

lake shoreline

When multiplied around the lake, individual shoreline alterations have a cumulative effect on a lake.

Disappearing property lines? The shallow roots of lawns are not deep enough to anchor soils, especially in wave and ice prone areas. Native plants have much deeper roots — they hold soils in place AND provide wildlife habitat. The graphic below shows the root structure of a common lawn grass (Kentucky Blue Grass) compared to that of native plants. This complex and deep root structure of native plants helps them better anchor soils and absorb moisture along the shoreline. Natives prevent property loss and offer protection against flooding.  

Sandy beaches are desirable by many homeowners but harm the lake and it’s wildlife. Rather than tilling the entire stretch of your lake shore property, consider tilling a smaller portion of beach, leaving the majority as wildlife habitat and erosion control.

The single greatest problem facing Michigan’s lakes is habitat destruction along the shoreline.

40% of Michigan’s inland lakes suffer from habitat loss

3-4% of Michigan’s inland lakes are harmed by nutrient load

Tilling beaches has many negative impacts upon lake ecology and shoreline property. Tilling means songbirds, butterflies and other wildlife lose essential food and shelter. Removing or tilling vegetation destabilizes soils. The absence of roots and regular tilling leaves soils and sand loose and vulnerable to the erosive forces of wind, waves, ice and runoff. As sand washes away from the beach, it flows into the lake. This harms the lake ecosystem by:

  • filling in and smothering fish spawning habitat
  • smothering aquatic organisms that serve as fish food
  • soil-filled waters block sunlight from reaching aquatic plants — without sunlight, these plants cannot create oxygen required for fish to breathe and results in “dead zones” where fish die or cannot live
  • rain that would seep into the soil flows more quickly off rocks and lawns straight into the lake.
  • runoff carries pet waste, fertilizer, and other lake pollutants. Without shoreline plants to absorb these, they flow directly into the water and can contribute to algae blooms and fish die-offs. This is the same water that recharges underground aquifers and our wells.

What can you do?

  1. Score your shore! Take this test to see how your shoreline rates. The Michigan Shoreland Stewards Program provides recognition for lakefront property owners who are protecting inland lakes through best management practices on their property.
  2. A growing number of lakeshore owners are switching from traditional mowed lawns to native grasses and wildflowers. In addition to helping wildlife, native plants require little to no maintenance. That frees up more of your time to go fishing, watch wildlife, and otherwise enjoy being at the lake.Picture
  3. Read The Wateredge’s Edge booklet to learn more. This DNRE Guide explains the problem sea walls and beaches pose to inland lakes and poses solutions for homeowners.
  4. Take a workshop from Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership or visit their website. Our staff can help bring this workshop to your homeowner’s or lake association.
  5. While a harmful activity, beach tilling is legal in Missaukee County and requires a Soil Erosion and Sediment Control permit. In addition to private landowners, the City of Lake City and Missaukee County Parks both maintain beach areas on Lake Missaukee.
  6. Learn more. Participate in MSU’s Introduction to Lakes Online. Concerned citizens, decision makers, local leaders, resource professionals and lakefront property owners can learn about inland lake management and protection by enrolling in the Introduction to Lakes online course. Topics include: Lake ecology, lakes and their watersheds; shorelines;Michigan water law; aquatic plant management; and citizen involvement and lake stewardship. The course begins in October 2016. Register here. Contact our office for more information.
  7. Partner with community groups or your Conservation District to help strengthen protections for shorelines.


“Recent studies have shown how critical shoreline habitats are to the health of the entire lake. If you want great fishing you need to protect the shoreline.” -Rebecca A. Humphries, DNRE Director


View some natural shoreline landscapes below.