The ledges of Grand Ledge
Saturday was the day I had scheduled a group paddle on the Grand River near Grand Ledge to see the ledges, but no one else signed up, so I went alone. It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic day! The weather was perfect, a lot of the trees still were vividly colored, I met some nice people, and had a few interesting things happen along the way.
I grew up in Grand Rapids, about 50 miles from Grand Ledge, but had never heard of the ledges there until just a couple of years ago when a friend, Georgena, told me about them. The ledges, as they are called, are 300-million-year-old sandstone and quartzite rock formations, rock ledges that rise 60 feet (18 m) above the Grand River. They remind me of a miniature version of the upper peninsula’s Pictured Rocks. Thank you for telling me about this place Georgie!
I did a little research on the area and found out that at one time, Grand Ledge was the second most popular tourist attraction in Michigan’s lower peninsula. Not only are there the ledges there, but there is a chain of seven islands in the Grand River, and one of the first amusement parks in Michigan was built on the largest of the islands. That turned out not to be such a wise idea, as the amusement park has long since been washed away when the river has flooded over the years. The only thing left is a small portion of the foundation to one of the buildings, and it is easy to miss that, as it is now part of a flood wall on the island.
As it is today, Second Island, the largest of the islands, is a park that is connected to the mainland by a footbridge that you can get to at Island Park, right in downtown Grand Ledge. There is also a pathway along the south bank of the Grand River that takes you past the ledges on the south side, all the way to Fitzgerald Park. That’s where I put my kayak in the river, at Fitzgerald Park.
The first thing about the day on Saturday is that once again, I was amazed at how well my new kayak worked! Now it isn’t like the Grand is anything more than a long pond, but I noticed right off that the new kayak cuts through the water so much easier than the old one, it is hard to believe they are supposedly the same boat. When I paddled the old one at speed, you could hear and feel the water building up at the bow, and it put off a huge wake for a kayak. By huge, I mean that one time when I hit the beach at speed to take out after a paddle, the wake from my boat broke over the side of the River Diva’s boat and got her wet! And if you know the Diva, you know that she doesn’t even get her feet wet, so I heard all about the wake from my old boat. But, there was none of that on Saturday, this new boats cuts through the water like a knife, no more bow wave in front, and no more wake in the back! I am happy that the old one broke!
I was paddling upstream on the north side of the river, checking out the ledges on that side, as I hadn’t seen them up close. I did try to go up a creek that enters on the south side, but it was too shallow yet, despite the rain we finally got this last week. There isn’t much of a current, I could paddle easily, and more or less hold in place when I wanted to take pictures. I chatted with some rock climbers and hikers along the way, but on the way upstream, I didn’t stop a lot. I continued on upstream well past the ledges, through the town of Grand Ledge itself, and on until I hit a stretch of the Grand that was too shallow to find a way through easily. The colors were gorgeous!
About the time I hit the shallow stretch of river, I noticed that the wind was picking up at times, so it seemed like a good time to turn around. I don’t paddle rivers as large as the Grand very often any more. There have been too many times when wind has pushed me back upstream faster than the current would push me downstream, and that is no fun. As it turned out, the wind wasn’t a problem, but if you have ever tried paddling 10 miles of the Grand against a stiff headwind, you’ll know why I was keeping an eye on the weather.
It was on the downstream part of the day that some of the more interesting events occurred. I had stopped under a
small tree that hung out over the river to take some pictures, when I heard a loud “SPLAT” close to my boat. I looked over to see a small rodent swimming away from me, too small to be a beaver or a muskrat, so I paddled over to get a closer look. It was a chipmunk that had fallen out of the tree, and was headed across the river. I assumed it was going across the river because I had been blocking it from the near shore, so I paddled ahead of it, hoping the little guy would turn around and go back to where he had come from. That didn’t work, he just swam around my kayak and kept going for the far shore. It seemed like such a long way for such a little guy, that it was probably good if he had and escort to make sure he made it. I dropped back and followed him, they actually swim better and faster than I would have imagined. He had gotten to where the aquatic plants growing on the river bottom grew all the way to the surface, and I was about to leave him to make it on his own, but then I noticed he wasn’t making any headway in the plants. I paddled up beside him and helped him along by bringing my paddle up from behind him so he had something to push against.
Now then, you may ask why I did things the way I did, but I had a bad experience saving a chipmunk when I was a kid. We found one that had fallen into a manmade hole and couldn’t climb back out. I had the great idea of lowering a stick into the hole so that he could climb out. He did, at warp speed! He was up the stick before I had time to react, and the little bugger rewarded me by sinking his rodent teeth as far into my thumb as he could. Fortunately, chipmunks aren’t know to carry rabies, so I didn’t have to get the shots. I wasn’t about to give this one the chance to run up my paddle and start chewing on me the way the other one did.
It took a few nudges, but he finally made it to shore, and I wished I had gotten my camera ready to take videos! He couldn’t decide if he wanted to run, shake himself dry, or what, but he kept falling over like a drunk on a three-day binge. It was funny to see him start to go over, watch him try to stop the fall by sticking his leg out to one side, but not soon enough! Over he’d go, then back on his feet trying way too hard to go way too fast! He was obviously very cold and tired from his long swim, he fell over at least half a dozen times, as I sat in my kayak laughing at him, I guess that was my reward for helping him make it to safety.
I continued back downstream to Island Park again, there is a flock of ducks that hang out there, and people feed and photograph the ducks. I didn’t want to ruin the chance for the people who were there then, besides, I was enjoying soaking up the sun on the fine day that it was. It was while I was hanging out just above the park that the second interesting thing happened. I saw a fish’s tail come up out of the water. That isn’t unusual, suckers and carp do it all the time, but this wasn’t the tail of a sucker or carp. I slowly moved towards it, it was a 2 1/2 to 3 pound brown trout! You can tell by the spots. I could see him quite clearly with my polarized sunglasses on, but it turned out to be a better picture with the sunlight reflecting the yellow from the trees onto the water. I could tell from its color and how beaten up it looked, that it had just finished spawning and was starting back down the river, probably all the way to Lake Michigan. There are times when I wish I had a DNR biologist along with me on my excursions, and this was one of those times. I know the Grand doesn’t hold brown trout normally, it is too slow, too warm, and there is too much sediment in the water for native trout. I also know that browns spawn in the fall, normally heading upstream to do so. I don’t think a brown from a tributary of the Grand, like the Rogue River, would fall back to the Grand, then go up the Grand to spawn, that doesn’t make sense. Also, from the color, I could tell it was a male, and few male river browns make it to that size, so it almost had to have come all the way from the lake. (biology lesson here. Male brown trout get darker and the colors of their markings get more intense when they are in the spawning mode. The females change color as well, but not to the degree that the males do. If it was a lake run fish, it was probably silver before entering the river. On average, female trout of all species grow much larger than the males, so if you see or catch a large trout, it is probably a female. lesson concluded) So, I am wondering just how common this is? Is there a population of lake run browns that successfully spawn in the Grand? I know that a few lake run browns, even an occasional lake trout, are caught at the Sixth Street Dam in Grand Rapids, but I assumed they spawned in tributaries of the Grand, not the Grand itself. Anyway, I got so close to this fish that I tried to tail it, but that doesn’t work on trout. I wasn’t going to keep it anyway, just get a good picture as proof.
By then the people taking pictures of the ducks had finished, so I continued my journey back downstream. I stopped off where the rock climbers were in action, and talked to some of them for a while as I was stretching my legs and taking a break.
That also gave me the chance to get up close and personal with why they call the ledges the ledges.