Climate change threatens Michigan’s Fishtown and its historic shanties | PBS NewsHour Weekend

Climate change threatens Michigan’s Fishtown and its historic shanties | PBS NewsHour Weekend

This story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, and is part of our ongoing series, ‘Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change.’

Carlson’s should be full of employees preparing smoked whitefish, salmon and trout to be shipped across the country. Instead, a demolition team is preserving the business by taking the ironic step of destroying a part of the building. That’s because Carlson’s is in danger.

Fishtown straddles the Leland River, the connector between inland Lake Leelanau and the open waters of Lake Michigan. Once the location of a thriving commercial fishing industry, Fishtown was almost lost when invasive species devastated the industry in the second half of the twentieth century. The community banded together to save the shanties that make up Fishtown and preserve the area for future generations as a reminder of its historic importance.

Hari Sreenivasan:

The area has become a tourist destination with 12 small, family-owned businesses that draw 300,000 tourists, and their dollars, every year from all over the world. Now Carlson’s and Fishtown are facing a new threat: the waters that made Fishtown possible in the first place. The Leland River is overflowing its boundaries Changes in atmospheric pressure over a higher-than-normal Lake Michigan are also pushing more water into that river and endangering Fishtown.

The region has experienced extreme high and low water events in the past, but this time it’s different.

Lauren Fry is a Physical Scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

So the Fishtown Preservation Society decided to take the dramatic step of lifting the shanties. Some have been placed on higher foundations. Others on new pilings that rise above the projected high water mark for the Leland River. Carlson’s is the fourth shanty to be lifted in the past two years.

Raising each shanty has its own complications. In the case of Carlson’s, it requires destroying part of the building that was too damaged by flooding and could not be saved in order to preserve the rest. Carlson’s will also have to be closed for as long as six months while the work is completed.

We will see in general for the Great Lakes basin more precipitation amounts, although the timing of when that falls will be perhaps different. We’re looking at potentially drier summers and the increases in precipitation and other times of the year.