Photos of Brown Bridge Pond Dam Breach

Photos by Mark Lindsay


For a century this was a dam impoundment called Brown Bridge Pond. Here you can see the river returning to its natural path.

Back in the May 2012 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine, photographer Mark Lindsay shared photos and thoughts about Traverse City’s Brown Bridge Pond. The pond was a dam backwater that he cherished, and it was being drained as part of an effort to remove Brown Bridge Dam.

The draining of the pond had been proceeding in stages for several months and was supposed to move into its final phase this past weekend, a process that involved lowering the pond by one foot a day for about three weeks. But something went wrong, and instead water breached the containment structures installed for the draining, and what was left of Brown Bridge Pond gushed downstream and drained in about six hours.

Mark Lindsay happened to be driving past the Boardman River as the breach was playing out, and it changed his afternoon. We asked him to share a few of the pictures he captured as the pond drained and describe what he saw.

I was going to town and crossed the Boardman on Garfield about 11:30 in the morning, and I noticed the water was a little high, but darker with mud than what I’d expected based on lowering one foot a day, which was the plan. Then on the way back home, about 12:45, when we reached the Garfield Bridge, there was a police officer with his lights on. We saw the water coming up and so we turned on Brown Bridge Road and stopped at another bridge there.

That’s where we saw a lot of people standing and watching. And we saw work crews really scurrying to try to contain it. And I saw that the first three homes directly below the dam had started to flood.

I went home and got my son Jack and we drove to the overlook on the north side of Brown Bridge Pond and we watched it drain. So, yeah, we just watched it drain, and it was amazing to see. I’d guess the pond at the start was maybe a couple of football fields across and it drained down into what looks like the original river channel, just a narrow river channel. It dropped maybe 12 feet, and all that water was filled with this sediment, silty, black stuff.

A sucker fish is left high and dry by the rapid draining, also see the erosion of the bank. Lindsay threw the fish, which was still alive, back into the stream.

My son and I stayed clear of the emergency zone, but we walked down the hill to the pond basin. At one point a worker came through and said to me, “It’s a nightmare.”

Anyway, we just stood there and watched it drain. It was like somebody pulled the plug out of a bathtub drain.

We watched for a few hours, and it was gone. I’ve taken so many photos at Brown Bridge Pond and I’m always saying I’ve taken my last photo there, but I always find myself back out there taking more photos. Now it’s just time to let the healing begin.

The plain that was once the bottom of Brown Bridge Pond.

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