After a morning of birding in the Ossineke State Forest Campground and along Isaacson’s Bay, then photographing the two Presque Isle lighthouses, I went to Thompson’s Harbor State Park, one of Michigan’s least developed state parks.
Leaving the new Presque Isle light, I saw a sign for the back entrance to the state park, and I’m glad that I took that route in, rather than the main entrance, which is off from US 23 between Alpena and Rogers City, Michigan.
First I suppose some information about the park is in order. You’re required to have a recreational passport for entry, there’s a self pay station in the park if you don’t have one, of course, I do. There’s no camping allowed in the park, other than at two cabins which may be reserved for $65 per night. Here’s more from the Michigan DNR website.
“Situated along seven and a half miles of Lake Huron shoreline, this undeveloped park provides a rustic retreat for hikers exploring the park’s six miles of trails.”
Following the link above will give you a map of the park and trails, along with info about reserving one of the cabins if you are so inclined. I’ll throw in two photos of some of the informational displays from within the park to begin with. (Click the pic for a larger view)
I have spent the most time along the Lake Michigan shoreline, as that is closest to me. Because of the prevailing westerly winds, for most of the Lake Michigan shoreline, sand dunes rise abruptly from very close to the water’s edge. The dunes are very much like snow drifts, some rising over 500 feet above the lake.
However, since the prevailing winds along the Lake Huron shore in Michigan are offshore, there are no dunes, and the land slopes much more gently down to the water. At least in the area I was this weekend, the Alpena area, there are many marshes along the Lake Huron shore, and Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a perfect example of that.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park lies between Grand Lake, a relatively large inland lake, and Lake Huron itself. Much of the park is marsh land, with higher ground interspersed between the marshes. The higher ground is covered in the thick, dense growth typically seen in Northern Michigan cedar swamps. The outlet from Grand Lake flows through the park, and empties into Lake Huron within the park’s boundaries.
My plan was to drive to the main parking lot for the trails, and to hike several of the loops of trails within the park. However, I came to a sign and another road that led to where the drain from Grand Lake enters Lake Huron, and stopped there first.
While shooting those photos, a couple came kayaking down the river, something that I was going to research while there. They said that it takes 45 minutes to an hour to paddle from the dam that controls the level of Grand Lake to Lake Huron, but that it is best done in the spring and early summer, as the water gets low later in the year. That’s good to know. There’s also an access site at the dam, which is where you can put in at.
I started towards the main parking lot again, but I saw an eagle soaring over one of the marshes along the Grand Lake drain, and stopped to try to get a photo of it. I did, but the eagle insisted on staying between the sun and myself, so the photos aren’t worth posting. But, along with the eagle was an entire flock of these, common nighthawk.
Nighthawks aren’t related to true hawks, they are nocturnal birds, more along the lines of a giant swallow in a way, they catch insects while in flight. It’s rare to see them during the daylight hours.
While I was trying to get a photo of the eagle, and the nighthawks, I was seeing many other small songbirds as well, but all of them escaped my lens other than this yellow warbler.
That’s when something that I noted in the post about Isaacson’s Bay came together in my mind. I was seeing many birds along the roads between the wetter areas, where the brush was also more open due to the roadway being cut through the brush. Walking through the dense growth there would have been pointless as far as birding, as I had learned on my short attempt at the nature trails at the Presque Isle Lighthouse. You have to be able to see more than three feet in order to do any effective birding.
So, for the rest of the way to the main parking lot, whenever I came to a more open area on the road, I would pull over and walk up and down the road a short distance in each direction. I saw many birds, but got few photos of them.
It was mid-afternoon by the time I did reach the parking lot, and started my hike for the day.
Things did not go as I planned, which was to hike most of the trails in the park and to get great photos of the endangered dwarf lake iris. For one thing, I had already been on my feet and/or walking since before sunrise, and my legs were getting tired, so I did a 2 1/2 mile loop and called it good.
I did find dwarf lake iris, which may be classified as endangered, but they’re certainly not rare, as you will see.
I’m not happy with those photos, but they were the best that I could do. Early in the morning, while it was still quite cool, I had put the polarizing filter on my lens for the landscape shots I took at that time. I guess that it was due to thermal expansion, but when I tried to remove the filter for the flower shots during the heat of the day, it wouldn’t budge. Later in the evening, when it had cooled off outside again, the filter came off with no problem, but by then it was too late. You can also see how the dwarf lake iris came to get its name, they are tiny little things, less than 3 inches tall as you can see by my fat fingers in one of the photos as I tried to get a clear shot of the flower. But at least the iris came out better than these.
The orange flowers were particularly beautiful, but I only found them growing in standing water, making it hard to get as close as I wanted. There was the filter that wouldn’t come off cause weird effects as well. Then, to top it all off, there was a sign near where I took a break that identified what the orange flowers were, which I had planned on photographing so that I could ID the flowers, but people started shouting about a snake, and I forgot to shoot the sign, or even look at it closely. I did get the snake though!
The snake had caught a goby in Lake Huron, and was bringing it onshore to eat.
By then, I was hungry, a bit tired, so I headed back to the campground that I was staying at pausing only long enough to shoot some bad photos of a ruffed grouse in the brush.
Back at the campground, I wolfed down a ham sandwich, then started shooting photos again.
Once again, I tried to pack too much into one day, and that left me short of time and energy by the time I got to Thompson’s Harbor. I could have, and probably should have skipped the two lighthouses on the way to the park, and devoted more of my time to the park. But, I think that I hit the highlights well enough for the time that I did spend there.
Thompson’s Harbor State Park is a great example of a somewhat unique ecosystem that is home to plants that grow nowhere else in the world, that alone makes it worth visiting. The hiking trails are well laid out and well marked, and double as cross-country sky trails in the winter. I would think that it would be an excellent area for skiing in the winter. I would rate the trails as easy, since the park is flat for the most part, and the loop system there makes it easy to do as little or as much hiking or skiing as you want to do.
There are miles of Lake Huron shore to explore, either by foot or by kayak, as the drain from Grand Lake where it enters Lake Huron makes a good access site for kayaking the big lake. Although not technically part of the park, the access site on Grand Lake at the dam offers kayaking on Grand Lake, and/or a trip down the river that empties into Lake Huron.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
On Sunday, April 29th, I attempted to kayak the canoe trail at Ludington State Park. I say attempted, because I was not able to do the parts of the trail that I most wanted to do, as the water in those areas wasn’t deep enough to float my kayak.
Since I began this post, I have done more research and learned that I tried the trail too early in the season, as you will read as you go along. As it was, I had one of the best still water paddles I have ever done, and learning what I have learned since Sunday only makes me want to go back that much more.
Before I get to the details of the day, here’s a link to the Michigan DNR’s web page on Ludington State Park…
And here’s the map that I generated from my GPS unit.
You can click on my map for a larger version of it. The map I generated covers a lot more than just the canoe trail, for once I found that the trail was impassable for me, I went to the north of the trail, and paddled around the islands and marshes there.
The canoe trail begins at the Hamlin Lake beach day use/boat ramp area, and you start by paddling east from there around a point, and then south along the shore of Hamlin Lake. It is a very pleasant paddle as long as the winds aren’t too strong. Hamlin Lake is quite large, and a stiff north or east wind can kick up some good size waves, something to keep in mind.
My day started well, there were two other couples, one in a canoe, and the other in kayaks, that launched at the same time that I did. Very early on, I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes right on shore.
I was following the two couples that had launched at the same time I did, and when they came to the first marsh, the paddled a short way in, then turned around and came back out. I stopped and checked the sign that was there to make sure it was where to turn, and it was. I paddled all the way to what looked like the back of the marsh, and found an old fence pole wrapped with some very aged reflective tape to signal the small opening through the reeds.
The trail is only about ten feet wide at that point, more than enough room, but it was hard to spot that small of opening in the reeds unless you searched for it.
No problem, I found it, and it was almost exactly what I hoped it would be, a quiet paddle through a marsh. It wasn’t long though, and I was getting hung up on trees that had fallen in the water, and not recent blow downs. The trees had been in the water for a long time. Still no problem, I jump logs when I am river kayaking all the time. Then the water became to shallow to paddle, and I was using my paddle to pole my way through the marsh.
I had to fight my way through the last fifty feet or so of the trail before the first of three short portages that are part of the trail, but I made it. I got out of my kayak, and took this shot looking back.
The portage wouldn’t have been any big deal, it was only ten to fifteen feet, but looking at the next pond, I could see that it wouldn’t be a paddle, I would be poling much of the time. I may have tried it, but the launch to that pond would have been a muddy mess. The water didn’t come close to solid ground at all any more, I would have had to walk several feet in some very black, very smelly swamp mud to get my kayak to the water. Since I have never tried this before, I didn’t know if things got better, or worse, so I turned back and fought my way back out the same way I had come in.
Once I got back to the main body of Hamlin Lake, I continued south along the shore, thinking that I could go around the marsh loop backwards from what the signs suggested. There were times when I could see signs in the marsh for the parts of the trail through the marshes, and it looked like the type of area I wanted to paddle. I could also here the croaking of herons and cranes coming from the marshes, along with other bird calls and songs.
When I got to the other end of the marsh loop, it was much the same, although I didn’t have to pole my way through mud to get to the portage into the marshes and ponds. It would have been another very short portage of less than twenty feet, but there wasn’t enough water on the other side of the portage for me to bother trying.
We have had a relatively dry spring, so maybe that’s why the water level in the ponds and marshes is low, but if that’s the case, I sure wouldn’t want to try the canoe trail during a dry summer.
Hamlin Lake is a man-made lake created during the timber cutting days, and the water level in the lake is controlled by the State of Michigan I assume, I could be wrong about that. The dam on the Big Sable River that sets the level of Hamlin Lake is in Ludington State Park, but such matters as lake levels is often a complicated and convoluted subject, especially when property owner associations and/or the courts get involved.
This is why you should always do your research before trying something like this. I did a web search and learned that the Michigan DNR does control the water level of Hamlin Lake, and they begin raising the lake in spring when all the ice is off the lake. You can learn more about the area by following this link, which provides a ton of information about the Hamlin Lake area.
When I was up there last November, the lake level was much lower than it was today, which I was told that they do every fall to make room for the spring runoff when it comes, and that is true.
What controls the water levels in the marshes and ponds, I have no idea. It could be that in the years since the canoe trail was created, that the marshes and ponds are simply filling in as marshes and ponds do naturally. Or, it could be as I have just learned, that I was a big dummy for trying the canoe trail this early, before the lake is raised to its summertime level.
It would be extremely helpful if the DNR mentioned any of this anywhere on its website or publications about the trail!
I thought that it looked like the water level in Hamlin Lake was normally higher than it was today by the appearance of the stumps in the water and looking at the shoreline, now I know why!
So, it looks like it would be a great place to paddle, when there is enough water to paddle in. I would normally recommend doing it in the spring or fall, to avoid the hoards of mosquitos and biting flies that would make such a paddle a lot less pleasant during the heat of summer. But, those are the seasons when the lake level is low, and I was already poling my way through the soft, stinky mud in the parts of the marshes connected directly to Hamlin Lake, and are really parts of the lake itself. In the fall, you would be walking through that mud to get to the first portage when the lake level is lower.
The problem with doing the trail in the summer months is both the insects will be fierce, and Hamlin Lake is an extremely busy lake in the summer months. It’s a great fishing lake, and it also gets a lot of use by water skiers and people using personal watercraft.
But after learning that I really made a mistake trying it this early in the season, now, I am going to have to go back and give it another chance when the lake levels are higher.
So, if you want to try the canoe trail, you’ll have to wait until the water level in Hamlin Lake has been raised high enough to make the trail navigable. Other wise, you can do what I did, which is paddle the area north of the beach/boat ramp, but it isn’t a marked trail. If you go north from the beach/boat ramp area, there are a number of islands, bays, coves, and marshes for you to paddle, and you don’t even have to portage if you don’t want to. I did do a short portage across one strip of land that was about thirty feet wide, but I could have circled around just as easily. The map of mine that I posted doesn’t show all the land and islands that are there, and I don’t know how to “add” land to those maps.
Last fall, when I hiked the Island Trail, I was thinking the entire time that I was hiking how great it would be to paddle that same area, and it was! Since I couldn’t do the canoe trail, I paddled around the islands that make up the Island Trail, and some of the connecting marshes as well. At one point, I was working my way through a marsh using a canal dug by beavers, how cool is that!
So, rather than try the canoe trail, I would suggest that you pick up a copy of the hiking trails map, or follow this link to print out one for yourself, and paddle around the islands that create “Lost” Lake. It really isn’t lost, it is a part of Hamlin Lake with just a few small openings between the islands to get a canoe or kayak through. The bridges for the hiking trails are built high enough that you can paddle under them with no trouble, although when the lake is drawn down, you may have to drag your boat a few feet through the sand to make it from Hamlin Lake to Lost Lake, or vice versa, depending on which direction you are going.
This was my kind of paddle! I normally paddle rivers, small lakes, marshes and swamps, I’m not big on open water paddling. I love rivers, small lakes, marshes and swamps because you never know what’s waiting for you around the next bend, whether it be good or bad. The good, I was able to paddle right up on some wildlife, like this raccoon.
And seeing mute swans flying overhead is always great.
Okay, for the bad. Sometimes you run into a deadend and have to retrace your route, no big deal as far as I’m concerned, that’s part of exploring a new area. Besides, it was back in the deadends that I found the most wildlife, like the wood ducks that stayed hidden in the reeds enough so that I wasn’t able to get a good photo of them. So I don’t consider running into a deadend a bad thing.
The only real negative I found during my paddle to the north of the canoe trail was the number of people hiking the “Island Trail” while I was kayaking near the trail. Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan, and the “island Trail” one of the most popular trails in the park. During the first portion of my paddle north of the canoe trail, I was always within earshot of the people hiking the trail, and as a result of the amount of human activity, I didn’t see as much wildlife until I got farther north, where the “Island Trail” turns away from the water.
The farther north that you go, the fewer people there will be around, and the more wildlife you will probably see. The Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area lies just to the north of Ludington State Park, although the wilderness area does not touch Hamlin Lake directly. You could access the wilderness area by walking through the northern tip of Ludington State Park to add hiking, or possibly even camping to your paddle if you wanted.
That’s one thing I wish I had done differently, actually two things I should have done differently. I should have researched the lake levels before I tried the canoe trail, and I should have spent the night camping somewhere in the area.
The paddle that I did to the north of the canoe trail was one of the best still water paddles I have ever done, it ended way too soon for my liking. But, I had spent so much time trying to get through the canoe trail, that I was running out of daylight. And that paddle to the north would have made about the perfect sunrise paddle, lasting all day. I should have gone up on Saturday, hiked some of the trails, camped overnight, and hit the water at dawn!
Now that I have learned not to try the canoe trail until the lake level is up, I will probably go back and do the canoe trail one day, then the area to the north the next.
There are many reasons why Ludington State Park is one of the busiest in Michigan, it is a beautiful area with abundant wildlife, and despite the crowds, I can’t wait to go back and do it again, this time, for an entire weekend!
I had to dig back in my archives for these, photos taken while kayaking.
The classic pose of a kayaker celebrating, paddle held high overhead.
She was a bit early in this celebration, the worst was yet to come, but she didn’t know it. She made it OK though.
Those aren’t of me by the way, I was the one shooting them. I had already shot the dam and set up to take photos of any one else brave enough to try.
Not only were the people I kayaked with fun on the river, they knew how to cook as well.
Kind of lame, but the best I could come up with, unless I had gone out and taken a shot of Christmas lights or something.
Thanks for stopping by!
I’ve got a lot of environmental and recreational news to share, but first a little side note.
Tuesday afternoon when I went into work I had to go up to the front office to speak with my immediate supervisor about the logistics of getting the truck I drive in the shop for its regular maintenance. While I was standing outside my supervisor’s office, the owner of the company came over to me to ask if I was going to attend the Christmas party this year, but first, he had to make fun of the old worn out shoes that I wear to work. The reason I wear old worn out shoes is because he’s a cheap bastard that doesn’t pay his employees what they are worth.
It must be that I’ve mellowed out over the years, in my younger days, I would have done one of two things depending on my mood, either have lit into the owner for being such a cheap bastard and then having the gall to poke fun of the shoes I was wearing, or I would have walked out without a word, and never returned. Of course the economy was a lot better back then, and I never had to worry about landing another job. The truth is, I don’t really have to worry about it now, holding a CDL-A with a Hazmat endorsement and a clean driving record, I could be working somewhere else by the end of the week. The problem is that I have gotten more picky in my choice of jobs over the years as well. I don’t really want to go back to driving over the road and be away from home for weeks at a time.
I’ve also gotten smarter, if I had quit on Tuesday, I would be throwing away any holiday pay for Christmas and New Years, plus, the first of the year, I’ll be getting a check for an extra week for the paid days off that I haven’t taken. I’m not about to hand that cheap ass bastard I work for an extra weeks pay just because I got mad. Revenge really is a dish best served cold, so I’ll wait until that extra weeks pay is safely in my checking account, then let the cheap ass bastard know what I think of him as I walk out the door.
I have decided that if I can’t find a different local job by the first of the year, I’ll go for a regional over the road job. It isn’t my first choice, but it’s a job, and one that pays about twice what I am making now. The bad part, only being home for a day and a half a week. At least I will be able to buy some new shoes. 🙂 I’m thinking of gift wrapping the ones the cheap ass bastard made fun of and leaving them for him as a parting gift to thank him.
Now, on to the good news, and where do I start.
I think it will be with this story, the states of Wisconsin and Michigan are teaming up to create a joint park along the Menominee River in the western Upper Peninsula. You can read the entire story here http://www.mlive.com/outdoors/index.ssf/2011/12/michigan_wisconsin_team_up_to.html
That stretch of the Menominee River includes two popular geologic features: Piers Gorge and Quiver Falls, and it will be Michigan’s first whitewater recreation area. It also will be the first state recreation area to be jointly managed. The river forms the boundary between the two states and has class IV and V rapids.
I hate to admit this, but I’m not sure I would want to tackle that river at my age. Since I’m pushing 60, I’m not as spry, or as foolish as I used to be. I would have to look the rapids over first, and that will be made easy as hiking trails also may be developed along with high-bluff overlooks and canoe and kayak launch sites and parking.
“The walk along the shorelines will be spectacular,” said Paul Yauk, the linear trails program manager with the Michigan DNR.
If only it wasn’t so far away. That’s a full day drive from where I live.
In my last post I wrote about the clean up being done in Muskegon Lake, in 2005-06, a similar $10 million cleanup of contaminated sediment was completed at nearby Ruddiman Creek next to Muskegon’s McGraft Park. You can read about the clean up here.
In fact, Muskegon is making the news a lot recently. The old Sappi paper mill has been purchased and the new owners are in the process of demolishing the old mill.
I hate to see people lose their jobs, but I am not at all sad to see the old paper mill go away forever! The stench from the mill was enough to make your eyes burn if the wind pushed the fumes your way, and the mill itself was an eyesore.
Another good news/bad news story is that Consumers Energy, Michigan’s largest electric utility is going to shut down the B. C. Cobb power plant in 2015.
The public utility on Friday said the two remaining coal-fired units at B.C. Cobb will cease operations by Jan. 1, 2015. Cobb’s two units are among seven smaller coal-generating units statewide that will be closed.
The good news is that Consumers is shutting down its coal-fired plants and relying on others that are fueled by natural gas, which is a good thing for the environment. The bad news, as a single property, the B.C. Cobb generating plant is Muskegon County’s largest taxpayer. A good deal of that tax money goes to the local schools, so that’s a hit they don’t need at this time. There are also 116 people employed at the plant, but most of them will probably be offered transfers to other Consumers Energy facilities.
This is great news for the environment, but we have to remember that there are a lot of people who are going to be affected in a negative way, from the loss the tax base to people losing their jobs.
More good news for the Muskegon area, the Owasippe Boy Scout reservation has brought in an expert to design a new system of trails for mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers and trail runners.
The Owasippe Outdoor Education Center is working with the Chicago Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, which owns the Owasippe property, to manage the land during the 46 weeks of the year when it’s not used for Boy Scouts summer camping.
The old trails were shut down to the public last year due to the environmental damage, mostly erosion, that was happening. With the help of the Alcoa Corp. which donated $3,000 and 12 employees to join about another dozen volunteers for a trail work day at Owasippe to return the abandoned section of trail to nature — a process that will be done with all of Owasippe’s trails that are rerouted.
The new trails will be laid out so as to minimize any damage to the environment, and will be expanded to take users through even more of the 5,000-acre property.
I am going to end this one with some good news from the Grand Rapids area, where I live. Turns out that the Grand River isn’t as polluted as most people assumed.
That’s about test results done in hopes of either removing the dam on the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids, and possibly restoring the rapids that the city is named for, or constructing a man-made set of rapids for kayakers to use.
There’s a lot more I should say about this, and the news that two universities have received a grant to research converting the S S Badger from a coal-fired ship to using natural gas, but my heart isn’t into this right now. In fact, there was more to be said about all the stories I posted links to, but right now, my employment and financial situation are weighing me down mentally.
Since I started this post a couple of days ago, I have talked to a national trucking company, and have a job offer to consider. The pay and benefits are so much better than my current job that it is hard to say no, except, I would be out for a week at a time with 34 hours of home time each week.
That would mean I would have to suspend this blog, heck, I would have to suspend my life. Thirty four hours off isn’t enough to do anything more than get ready for the next week on the road, doing laundry and grocery shopping, then packing. There would be no trips up north, not even any local hiking or kayaking trips.
I tell myself to take the job, knowing I won’t be there for long, a year or so at most. I could pay off some bills, and what’s a year? I’ve done it before, I can do it again.
Well, I don’t have that many years left, I don’t really want to lose another one, not for money anyway.
There’s so much to consider in making a decision, if I am boring you, please feel free to click away now.
I’m lucky in that I’m in pretty good shape for some one my age, which is 57 years old. Most people judge me to be about ten years younger when they first meet me. In fact, one of the branch managers where I work made the comment that he could handle the heavy laundry carts as well as I can if he was my age. Turns out that I’m a year and a half older than he is.
That’s another thing I have to consider as far as a job, driving over the road isn’t the healthiest lifestyle either. I am just now getting back into shape after the years I spent over the road before I got the job I have now. Sitting behind the wheel of a truck for 11 hours a day, chain-smoking to stay awake and fight off the boredom isn’t something I want to do again.
I’d better change the subject. We got our first real snow of the year last night, just enough to cover the ground. I haven’t sorted through the photos I took to have any post here yet, I’m not sure there are any worth posting. I do love the first snow of the year though, it’s always so bright and clean.
Only a few more days left until the winter solstice, the day of the least amount of daylight. From that day until the summer solstice, our days will be getting longer. Our coldest months are January and February, but at least the sun climbs higher in the sky each day, and it stays light longer with each passing day. I think I will have myself a celebration of sorts on the first day of winter, not to celebrate winter, but to celebrate the longer days that are coming.
I’m sorry for the disjointed rambling nature of this post, the weekend is coming up, and I’ll be back to normal with a couple of days off. Thanks for stopping by!
From the Michigan River News Blog
State, conservationists differ on how to protect Jordan River from overuse
By Andy McGlashen • November 11, 2011
If you’ve ever run the rapids of northwest Michigan’s Jordan River in a canoe or kayak, you know what makes it a paddler’s paradise. There’s the clean, swift water, the springs trickling out of shadowy cedar forests, and the chance of spotting a mink or a bald eagle.
And sometimes there’s the band of beer-drinking revelers, whooping it up on the riverbank.
Heavy use of the Jordan by party-minded paddlers is raising tough questions about how to preserve the wild character of Michigan’s first designated Natural River. Local conservationists want to build structures to protect the resource, but they face opposition from the state program that restricts development on wild streams.
“It’s a fragile resource that’s being loved to death,” said John Richter, president of Friends of the Jordan River Watershed. “Somebody told me we should let nature take its course. And I said, Wait a minute. This isn’t nature. It’s people.”
Richter says about a half-dozen sites on the river are being degraded in one way or another from overuse. Paddlers and tubers litter and relieve themselves on private land. Stream banks are eroding, which can ruin fish spawning habitat. And the landings where people launch and end their canoe trips don’t have enough space or parking.
“People are just pulling off the river where there’s high ground and converting them into campgrounds,” Richter said.
Perhaps the most popular party spot on the river is Frog Island, an area of riverbank surrounded by wetlands where repeated loading and unloading of canoes and kayaks has caused severe erosion.
“I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”
“Frog Island is probably a third the size today of what it once was,” Richter said.
When Friends of the Jordan and other partners installed woody debris a few years ago to shore up Frog Island’s banks, “people just ripped it up,” according to Brian Bury, administrator for the Natural Rivers Program of the Department of Natural Resources.
Richter said he would like to see stream banks at Frog Island and other sites stabilized with logs—larger than the woody debris used there previously—to stop erosion. At Old State Road, where heavy paddling traffic creates problems with parking and trespass on private property, he favors building a new parking area and a landing with toilets and a boardwalk just upstream from the road, on public land.
But those ideas have met resistance from the Natural Rivers program, which was created in 1970 to ensure that development doesn’t diminish designated rivers’ aesthetic character, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.
“We’re looking for a natural river that offers a certain kind of experience,” Bury said.
For now, Bury said any ecological damage caused by overuse of the Jordan isn’t significant enough to merit changing its aesthetic character, and building new landings would just set the table for heavier traffic and more elaborate parties.
“The general thought is that, at this point, we’d do more harm than good” by building the structures, he said.
Richter said he respects Bury and his work, but thinks the state’s position is shortsighted. The “certain kind of experience” the program promotes has disappeared on the Jordan, he added.
“I’m not sure Brian has spent enough time on the river, say on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July,” he said. “I understand their point of view, but the program isn’t working. They want no man-made features, but what’s happening is worse.”
Richter said another solution proposed in public meetings is a limit on the number of watercraft on the river. But he and Bury agree that such a limit would be unpopular and hard to enforce. Paddlers need permits to float some rivers within national forests, but the state has no permit system.
“To control private use of watercraft, we’d need a legal mandate,” and that’s not something the state is interested in, Bury said.
Don Montfort, whose family owns the Swiss Hideaway canoe and kayak livery, said his clients are on too tight a schedule to cause much trouble. He said the main problem is the growing number of locals who have flocked to the river as canoes and kayaks have gotten cheaper, a position Richter shares.
“The locals say, ‘This is our river, and we’re going to stop wherever we want to stop,’” Montfort said.
Other ideas under consideration include increased law enforcement and more signs indicating restrooms, access rules and river etiquette. But enforcement has already been stepped up with little effect, said Montfort, and signs are unlikely to discourage bad actors.
“When you block off one area” from riverside partying, “it’s just going to pop up in another,” he said.
Richter agrees that it will be tough to find solutions that work for paddlers, conservationists, anglers, homeowners and the state, but his group will continue holding meetings and seeking input.
“We’ve got to do something,” he said. “Before we know it, I think we’re going to have a dozen Frog Islands.”
I can tell from the search engine terms that people use and end up here at my blog that paddlers are looking for information about places to paddle. I also know from my years of being involved in the sport that paddlers are much like fishermen, they have a few favorite places they love and return to regularly, but they are always looking for new places to explore and new challenges. What I am going to attempt to do in this post is share some of the tools I use in finding new places to paddle, whether they are small lakes, marshes, rivers, or the Great Lakes.
Many paddlers specialize on one type of water, some prefer lakes and seldom tackle a river, others prefer rivers and think that paddling a lake is boring. I love them all, if there is enough water to float a boat, I can probably be talked into paddling it. Some people paddle for exercise, others paddle to get out into nature, but no matter what your favorite type of body of water is or why you paddle, the process of finding places to paddle is the same, more or less. Finding suitable rivers and planning trips on them is a bit trickier for reasons I’ll get into as we go along.
After 40 some years of paddling, and several years organizing trips for a group of kayakers, I think I have a good idea as to how to plan a trip. It helps that I have paddled most of the rivers in lower Michigan at some point in my life, so I have a basic idea what the rivers are like to begin with. However, there are a lot of people who are new to the sport and are looking for good places to paddle. With the Internet, and possibly a trip to a book store, it is fairly easy to plan a trip on just about any body of water that is suitable for paddling.
Before I go any farther, I should point out that I live in Michigan and the laws and rules concerning riparian owner’s rights, road and bridge right of ways, and other laws make accessing rivers and lakes fairly easy here. In Michigan, for the most part, if you can get a canoe down the river it is considered navigable water, and it is open to the public. From what I understand, the laws in other states are not so friendly to paddlers. So your first step in planning trips is to have a basic understanding of the laws in your area, and is best if you contact the state agency that is charged with enforcing many of those laws. In Michigan, it is the Department of Natural Resources, and I think most states have a similar agency. The very best thing to do is talk to a conservation officer, or CO as they are called here. They know the laws better than some one who answers the phones or E-mails. It has been my experience that a CO would much rather explain the laws to you before they have to come out and issue you a ticket because a property owner called to report that you are trespassing.
When I was younger and paddled with just a few people who were as hardcore as I was, most of the time we did what we called bridge hopping. That is, we found a river that looked like you get a canoe down it, and paddled from bridge to bridge using the public right of way along the road as our access. Some property owners aren’t exactly keen on that idea, or of fishermen doing the same thing, so they make things as tough as they can for you. That can also mean some pretty tough slopes to slide down, or climb up, in order to get to or from the water. On smaller rivers in more populated areas, you may find a bridge every mile or two. On larger rivers, it can be any miles between bridges. All it takes is some ability to read a map and find the roads that cross the rivers.
Bridge hopping is one way of scouting sections of a river before tackling a longer trip, especially if you can’t find any information about paddling the river from other sources I’ll get to in a minute or so. I have found a few rivers that weren’t suitable for paddling by bridge hopping, the east branch of the Au Sable and some sections of the White River come to mind on that one. You may find that a river that looks great at every bridge is clogged with one logjam after another in between the bridges, and that you spend more time portaging the logjams than you do paddling. Or, on the east branch of the Au Sable, the logs were close enough together that in many areas, you could walk from log to log, dragging your boat behind you. Another that comes to mind is the Pigeon River between the Pigeon River State Forest Campground and the Pine Grove State Forest Campground. In that stretch of the Pigeon, the river “braids”, that is it breaks up into many small streams, some of which disappear underground, only to emerge some distance away. It does not make for an enjoyable day of kayaking. Another stretch of river that does the same thing is the Jordan River above the Graves Crossing State Forest Campground. It is illegal to paddle that part of the river anyway, but I have fished it enough to know that I would never want to try getting a kayak or canoe through there.
Another good thing about bridge hopping is that you may run into other people who are paddling the river the day that you’re there. I recommend doing scouting on nice summer days when you’re most likely to meet other paddlers for that, and other reasons. There’s nothing better than first hand information from people who have paddled a stretch of river that you’re thinking of trying.
Unfortunately, I have to offer a few words of caution about word of mouth info. If the people you run into on the river are floating it in equipment much like your own, it is a pretty safe bet to take their word for river conditions. If it is a group of young guys in whitewater boats, you should ask some serious questions, unless you’re looking for serious whitewater. If they aren’t on the river, they are just there at a bridge, or they are fishermen, then you should take everything with a grain of salt. It could be that the person you’re talking to is one of the land owners along the river that’s fed up with drunks trashing his property. Or it could be that it is a fisherman who really didn’t notice how many times they had to get out of the river to go around logjams. I can tell you from experience that I don’t notice things like that when I am fishing, unless I am also scouting the river at the same time for kayaking later. Then there are those sickos that love to tell you the river is open and a great float, then when you’re out of earshot, laugh their butts off at the thought of you trying to paddle the river through miles of tangled up logjams. It could be that the person is a fisherman who doesn’t want to share the river with a bunch of kayakers.
So where do you go for information? The bookstore is a good place to start. There are a couple of good books on paddling in Michigan, and I would assume that the same holds true for other states as well. In the books you’re likely to find information you can use, such as directions to access sites, maps, charts that show the distance between access sites and the time it takes to paddle between them.
I have two books on paddling in Michigan, not surprisingly, one is titled “Paddling Michigan” by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, the ISBN is 1-56044-838-5 and the other is “Canoeing Michigan Rivers” by Jerry Dennis and Craig Date, ISBN 1-882376-95-1. Both are good books, the first contains information on paddling still waters and the Great Lakes along with many rivers, the second contains only information on 45 rivers in Michigan. Depending on what type of paddling you prefer, you can pick up either of these books and plan many days worth of paddling from either.
Now then, a word of caution about books, and websites. No matter how hard the authors try to make sure the information that they present to people is correct, things change. Campgrounds, access sites, and parks open and close, and here are a few examples I have run into over the last few years.
The Pigeon Bridge Campground on Sturgeon Valley Road was closed for a while due to a bad well, it re-opened, then was slated to be closed again in the spring of 2011, although it did end up being open all this year.
The Forks Campground on the Boardman River was closed the last time I was there, I don’t know if it has re-opened or not.
There are several dams that are slated for removal on the Boardman River, I am going to assume that the stretches of the river near the dams will be closed to recreational users while the removal takes place. I don’t have a timetable for the removal, I’m not sure one exists yet.
The DNR has closed the one state forest campground that was on the Little Muskegon a few years ago, permanently. Every vestige of the campground has been removed, although there is still a long trail to the river if you don’t mind carrying your boat almost a quarter of a mile.
The DNR access site on the Pine River near Edgetts Bridge has been closed, I think permanently.
Several canoe and kayak liveries have closed or moved their operations, and that becomes important on some rivers, since it is often a livery service that keeps the rivers open enough, as far as logjams, to make the rivers suitable for paddling.
The reason I gave those examples is that I always try to have a back up plan in mind in case I run into something that stops me from doing what I had in mind. Rivers are worse in this respect than lakes, but it happens on lakes as well. There’s not much worse than when a group of friends packs up their gear, drive for several hours, only to find that the county park they planned to use as access to a paddling spot is closed for maintenance.
If you’re paddling a river, you should always know what the next access site downriver from the one you’re planning on taking out at is, just in case you happen to miss the one you plan to use, they aren’t always easy to spot from a kayak or canoe. I always research all the access sites in an area, so if one is closed, we can change our plans and still get in a paddle. If planning on paddling a lake, I find other lakes in the area as back ups, just in case.
Finding places to paddle
How do I find places to paddle? I keep my eyes and ears open all the time to anything that may lead me to a new paddling spot. Most of the places I find to paddle are rivers, lakes, and even marshes that I spot while driving, either for work, or when I am on my way to or from some other outdoor activity. Books are one source that I have already mentioned, but there are many others as well. The Internet is one, you may have well landed here because you were researching places to kayak. Often when I am researching a river I will type “XXXXX river map” as a way of getting useful information, of course I have to weed through many sites to find what I am looking for. If I know what county the paddling place I am researching is in, I’ll use “XXXXX county parks” and see if there are any parks that can be used as an access site. A lot of the Internet is hit or miss, sorry to say. Other than searches for specific rivers, one place to try is paddling.net. Some of the info is useful, some not so useful, but it is a place to begin.
Unfortunately, the Michigan DNR is way behind the curve when it comes to information for kayakers and canoeists, the state long ago shut down a series of campgrounds that were intended to be used by paddlers on rivers like the Manistee and Muskegon. It is hard to find any info from the state on paddling unless you know where you are going to paddle and look for campgrounds and/or specific access sites. Their web site isn’t the easiest to navigate either.
A couple of years ago, I was organizing a paddle on the Manistee, and called the DNR field office in Grayling about a section of Goose Creek State Forest Campground that is intended for paddlers, and the people at the field office didn’t know that the section of the campground existed. They had to check and call me back after a few days.
Other times I have had really good luck getting useful information from the field offices, so it depends on what you are inquiring about, and who answers your call or is on duty when you stop in. I find the Conservation Officers are a great source of information when I run into them and they have time to talk. I have never met a Michigan CO that wasn’t helpful, although one time I started chatting to one just minutes after he had a confrontation with a group of armed deer hunters, and it took him a few minutes to unwind from his enforcement mode, totally understandable as far as I a concerned. Once he had relaxed, he started giving me the lowdown on a river I was thinking of fishing, but then he got another call and had to cut it short. CO’s know their territories like the backs of their hands, and they know the law, so when a CO tells you it’s OK to use an access site, you know it’s OK to use. Overall though, the State of Michigan could do a much better job.
However, if the river you are thinking of paddling flows through a National Forest, you may be in luck. I have handouts from the United States Forest Service on a half a dozen rivers flowing through the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Most of the handouts have maps and include a table with the distance and paddling times between the access sites. I’ve looked online, but the USFS website has to be one of the very worst for finding what you are looking for. The handouts that I have I picked up at the local ranger station in Baldwin, Michigan. That ranger station is right on M 37 in downtown Baldwin and is open on weekends at least in the summer. The address is 650 North Michigan Ave, Baldwin, Michigan 49304 and the phone number is (231) 745-4631. There is also a ranger station in Manistee, Michigan, the address is 412 Red Apple Rd, Manistee, Michigan 49660 and the phone number is (231) 723-2211. I am sure there are other ranger stations as well, I think there is one in Cadillac, but I’m not positive on that. Ranger stations in other parts of the state may well have the same type of handouts for rivers closer to those stations.
Word of mouth is a good way to find new spots to paddle as well. I try to strike up conversations with other paddlers I meet while I am paddling to find out what they know.
You may also want to join a group or club, I was the organizer for a local paddling group through Meetup.com, and I know they have many other kayaking, paddling, and outdoor adventure groups all over the United States. Don’t let the name fool you, it is a great organization, and the reason I am no longer with the group I used to organize has nothing to do with Meetup, and everything to do with some of the members who joined the group I ran. There are other groups and clubs as well, an Internet search may lead you to one in your area.
What it all boils down to is keeping your eyes and ears alert for finding places to paddle. You may get a great idea from a news story, or somewhere else you may never consider. I keep a list of places on my computer, and as time allows, I plan trips to these places.
Planning a trip
I am going to focus on planning river trips, paddling on lakes or the Great Lakes is fairly easy to plan for, you find an access site, and paddle until you don’t want to any more.
For regular season day trips, I like to plan for 4 to 6 hours of paddling on the water, depending on the length of the drive to get to the place, and how difficult of a paddle I expect it to be.
For overnight trips, 10 to 16 hours of on the water time works well.
For winter paddles, I like to keep the time down to around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how cold it is.
If you do find information on a river that you would like to paddle, you probably won’t see the speed of the river listed, at least not as miles per hour of the current. What you will probably find listed is the gradient of the river, that is how much the river drops per mile of river. If you are fairly new to paddling, the gradient may not mean much to you, so I’ll try to explain it. All rivers flow downhill, and the amount it drops is the gradient. Here are the gradients for a few rivers in the lower peninsula of Michigan to give you an idea on how to use the gradient in your trip planning.
- faster than 14 feet per mile, very fast and you’ll probably find some serious whitewater on any river that drops faster than 14 feet per mile. There are no rivers in lower Michigan that fast as far as I know.
- 10 to 14 feet per mile, fast, often with at least some whitewater, but not always. This is the speed of the Pine, Sturgeon, Pigeon, and the infamous 6 to 9 mile bridge section of the Little Manistee River, which I think is the toughest paddle in lower Michigan, even though there isn’t much whitewater per say.
- 6 to 10 feet per mile, a moderate flow, and rivers in this range are the Pere Marquette, the Au Sable, and the White Rivers as examples.
- 3 to 6 feet per mile, slow, this is the rate of drop for the lower stretches of our larger rivers like the Grand, Kalamazoo, and Muskegon Rivers.
That’s for the average rate of drop, or gradient of the rivers, but no river flows at an even pace over its length, there are slower parts, and faster parts. There is a nice section of fast whitewater on the Muskegon River in downtown Big Rapids, but it is short and doesn’t get much written about it, even though it is as good as the Pine River is. On the other hand, there isn’t much whitewater on the Little Manistee, but it is fast, tight, and twisty, with log jams at every bend, making it difficult to negotiate with out going over.
In theory, the steeper the gradient, the faster the river flows, and the faster you’ll cover ground, but it doesn’t always work that way. On the faster rivers, there are often obstacles that slow you down, and the greater chance of some one going over, which also slows you down.
If you’re really lucky, you may find a map that shows you all the access sites, and a table or chart with the paddling times between them listed like on this website for a kayak/canoe livery on the Pine River here in Michigan.
If you’re not that lucky, you can figure you’re paddle time using the gradient of the river as a guide. Here’s how I figure the length of a paddle in time for given gradients, trying to stay within the 4 to 6 hour time frame for a day paddle.
- 10 to 14 feet per mile of gradient, 12 to 16 river miles
- 6 to 10 feet of gradient, 8 to 14 river miles
- 3 to 6 feet of gradient, 6 to 10 river miles.
You’ll notice I used the term river miles, as rivers twist and turn a great deal. You may find two bridges a mile apart as the crow flies, but that is very often 2 to 3 miles of river miles because of the twists and turns. In general, smaller rivers twist and turn more than larger rivers. Back in the old days before computers, I would estimate river miles by finding the straight line miles and multiplying that by 2 for larger rivers, and by 3 for small rivers, and that usually worked out well.
Then, some one showed me how they measure river miles using Google Earth. You can use the ruler tool to measure the river miles. If you do anything in the outdoors, Google Earth is a great tool to have available, I use it often. Since I got a handheld GPS unit, I find it easier to calculate river miles using the mapping software that came with it, but I still use Google Earth a lot. You can even find access sites that aren’t listed on maps by using Google Earth. But using either Google Earth or mapping software, you can measure river miles by using the ruler tool and clicking along the river as the ruler keeps a running total of the distance. Here’s a quick example I did of a section of the Pine River, from the Meadowbrook access to the Skookum access sites.
You can click on the map for a larger view, but basically, I traced the river with the ruler to come up with approximately 3 river miles between the two access sites.
Here’s the disclaimers to go with what I have just written. That all applies to rivers that are fairly open, that is, not many obstructions to slow you down. The more paddling use a river gets, the more likely it is that the river is open, and you won’t run into many problems, if any. However, when you paddle rivers that don’t see many other paddlers, you’re likely to encounter many trees and logjams that will slow you down. The smaller the river is, the more likely that is to happen.
If there is a livery operating on the stretch of river you’re planning on paddling, the river is probably free of major obstructions, but you may find some obstructions if you paddle in the off-season as I do. Be careful if you check to see if there is a livery operating on a river by checking online, many livery operators will list a number of rivers that they supposedly serve on their websites, when they actually only operate on one stretch of one river. They list many rivers as a way of getting you to their website because they know people are looking online for paddling information.
If there isn’t a livery operating on the river you want to paddle, you’ll do well to scout it by any means possible, Google Earth, the Internet, word of mouth, etc. Some people don’t mind dealing with many obstructions on a paddle, often refered to as a wilderness type paddle. Back in the old days, many of my canoe trips were what are now considered wilderness paddles, so getting out of my boat a number of times to portage around trees and logjams doesn’t bother me too much. I still like to do one or two of the wilderness paddles a year, but many people don’t like that type of paddle at all.
I wouldn’t plan a ten-mile long day trip on a river that I didn’t know, and that I couldn’t find solid information about, because that trip could turn out to take a much longer time than the miles involved would suggest. That’s when I would go back to bridge hopping again, taking several short trips until I knew what the river was like. Be prepared, and don’t think that because one stretch of river is open that the entire river is going to be open.
Maybe I should tell you of one of my mistakes recently to show you what not to do. I had read that a canoe livery had opened a stretch of the White River above Hesperia, Michigan, and loving the White, I set out to scout that stretch of it. I started by paddling upstream from Hesperia, but only made it as far as the first bridge I came to. The river was open, but the current made it very difficult to paddle the river going up. I talked two other somewhat new kayakers into joining me to scout the rest of that stretch. We started at a roadside park on M 20 and spotted cars at the first bridge downstream. It was a breeze, a great paddle, and we could see signs that some one had removed many of the fallen trees that had once blocked the river. Then I made my goof.
Since I had found the last part of that stretch to be open, and we found the first stretch open, we didn’t spot a car at either of the next two bridges down, we decided to go all the way to Hesperia, bad choice as far as my fellow paddlers were concerned. The middle section of that stretch was one fallen tree after another, and we made close to a dozen portages to get around them. There were many other obstructions that we either smashed through, or jumped over in our boats when we should have probably portaged them as well. Neither of my fellow paddlers were dressed well for the number of somewhat difficult portages we did make, and they were not enjoying themselves with their legs getting all scraped up from the brush, or the hoards of mosquitoes that attacked them when they got out of their boats.
They were good sports about the entire affair, and they continued to help me scout rivers after that, but they both refer to it as the Hell Paddle. Oh, and I forgot to mention that when I did my upstream attempt at scouting, I talked to some locals that told me that the river was still open, yeah, right. To me, it was like the old days when many of our paddles entailed many portages, but most people are looking for an easier paddle.
This is the first of many posts I’ll do on paddling in Michigan. I was hoping to be able to have more photos and maps, but since it looks like that may take longer than I planned, I’m going to make do with what I have for now. Hopefully I will save others from a Hell Paddle of their own, unless that’s what they are looking for. I will include some wilderness type paddles in the series I do, and that will be duly noted.
Probably the most under used recreational outlet that there is in West Michigan is the Grand River. That’s certainly true among us kayakers, the Grand is hardly the first river that comes to mind when you think about rivers to kayak. It’s slow and it’s muddy, but it isn’t nearly as polluted as most people think, especially above the city of Grand Rapids. I know, it looks dirty, but that’s not pollution or the river’s fault, the Grand is a large mature river that carries tons of sediment each day.
Because the Grand is a large river, the largest and longest in Michigan, it has a very large flood plain by the time you get near Grand Rapids. That’s a good thing in a way, because few houses have been built on the floodplain, leaving the river looking very natural and undeveloped.
As you can see, there are no signs of human encroachment in sight, and there are miles of the Grand just like this.
This trip started simply enough, my buddy Mike asked me if I wanted to go kayaking this Sunday, and my reply was that it would have to be close to home as I am saving money for my Labor Day trip to the Pigeon River Country to go elk “hunting” with my cameras. So, I suggested the Grand River near Ada, since I had grown up in that area and it has been at least 30 years since I have paddled that stretch of the Grand River. I made the mistake of suggesting that we paddle upstream to the Thornapple River, and then up the Thornapple to the dam, then drift back. It turns out that Mike has an aversion to paddling upstream, which I am going to have to cure him of. 😉 The mere mention of paddling upstream was enough for Mike to back out, but he didn’t tell me why until after I was back.
That left me on my own, which is one of the reasons the Grand River is great for a solo kayaker, it is almost as easy to paddle upstream as it is to go downstream since there is very little current in most places. I’ve done some tough upstream paddles in my day, I did four miles up the White River a couple of years ago as an example, and I’m getting too old for that kind of paddling.
My plan was to put in at Roselle Township Park, since I had read that they added a canoe landing to the park. As you will see on the map that I’ll post here later, Roselle Park is on Grand River Drive, about halfway between Ada and the DNR access site on Knapp Street. I was going to put in at the park, paddle up to the Thornapple, then drift back to the park.
I say “I was going to” because when I got to the park, my plans changed. They built the canoe landing, they even built a road going to the landing, but they have the road closed, leaving you with a half mile carry to get your canoe or kayak to the water. It’s a great park, on what used to be the Ada Beef Company property that was donated to Ada Township. Why they don’t allow you to drive to the canoe landing is beyond me, the landing is about worthless the way it is now. (Since I wrote this, I received a reply from Jim Ferro, the Ada Township Planning Director explaining why the landing and access is the way it is. You can read the explanation as a comment below the main body of this post)
Since I didn’t feel like carrying my kayak half a mile, I put in at the Amway DNR access site instead. I don’t think that its official name is the Amway access, but it is on land next to Amway’s headquarters, on land that Amway donated to the state for the access site. It is on M 21 also known as Fulton Street in Ada, on the north side of the road, and not signed. You turn into the east gate for Amway, just before the bridge over the Grand River, then veer right to the access site just before the Amway gates.
You can see where the Thornapple River joins the Grand from that access site, and it’s an easy paddle up the Thornapple. My day started well, once I got on the river, there was a great blue heron hunting on the flats where the two rivers meet.
It was so focused on food that it paid me no mind at all as I paddled past it and started up the Thornapple.
It may be hard to believe, but this is right in “downtown” Ada. The only signs of development that you see are the three bridges that cross the Thornapple. One is the current automobile bridge, one is the old railroad bridge, and between them is the old historic covered bridge.
About 3/4 of a mile upstream on the Thornapple, you come to the first of many dams on the river.
You can portage the dam, there’s a trail there for you to do so, but the impoundment above the dam is surrounded with wall to wall waterfront homes, and normally filled with jet skis and people waterskiing. The portage is mainly used for people going down river anyway, not crazies like me going upstream. That was as far as I wanted to go on the Thornapple anyway, so I turned around and drifted back to the Grand, watching the kingfishers and hawks hunting over the river.
It was a beautiful late summer day. Sunny skies, temperature around 80 degrees, and a light wind. I drifted back to the Grand River and just let the current carry me along slowly, about the only paddling I did was from one side of the river to the other to get a better view of something on the bank. I think I saw one house and two places of business along the way, the rest of the river is heavily forested and you would never know that you were on the Grand River just outside of Michigan’s second largest city other than some occasional traffic noise.
Different people paddle for different reasons, some like fast whitewater rivers like the Pine where the paddling itself is the focus. Some people like slower rivers such as the Thornapple or the Flat so they can hang their feet over the side of the kayak and relax. Some people prefer inland lakes, and some prefer the Great Lakes. Me, I love them all and then some. I’ll even paddle swamps and marshes if there is enough water to float my kayak and a way to get on them.
This day was a hang my feet over the side of the kayak and relax kind of day, and floating down the Grand works great for that. However, it is also a good river to get the paddling muscles in shape on, if you paddle upstream. I met at least a half a dozen other kayakers who typically paddle the Great Lakes working their way upstream. Talking to them, they were there because it was close to home and a way to stay in shape for when they go out on the big lakes. They all had the long, narrow, open water boats rather than the type of kayaks one normally uses for rivers.
Did I mention it was a beautiful day?
The large floodplain and forests along the Grand River also makes a good home for many types of wildlife. Like this spiny softshell turtle.
It, along with many other species of turtles were out basking in the sunshine all up and down the banks of the river. There were also wildflowers on the banks, like this cardinal-flower.
Of course there were frogs, like this leopard frog.
And as I was chatting with another group of kayakers, this flock of sandhill cranes flew past us.
I drifted all the way downstream to the canoe landing at Roselle Park in order to check it out from the water, and so I would have some idea how far I had gone, and how long the paddle back upstream was going to be. The float down was about as good as it gets, but I knew the paddle back was going to take some work, so Roselle Park is as far down as I went. If Mike had joined me, we would have left a vehicle at the Knapp Street access site and floated all the way down to there, a total of about 6 river miles from the Amway access site.
As it was, I turned around and started back up the river. It isn’t hard going at all, the Grand is like a long narrow lake rather than a river. I did stop a couple of times for a break, and a couple of times for pictures like this one.
That about sums up how great of a day it was, being able to get that close to a bald eagle as it was perched waiting for a fish to get too near the surface.
A couple other wildlife notes. There were reports of a black bear living along the river in this area a few years back, I haven’t heard of any lately though, but for as close to Grand Rapids as it is, the river itself is pretty wild. I saw a lot of clam shells in the shallow parts of the river, and along the banks, that’s to be expected. But, I also saw many clam shells on rocks and stumps out in the river. That leads me to believe that otters may have returned to this stretch of the Grand River! There are lots of raccoons living along the river, I saw their tracks all up and down the banks, in places, it looked like a raccoon super highway. And, raccoons are known to feed on clams, but I don’t know that they swim out from the bank, grab clams, and then eat them on rocks and stumps that are in the river. That sounds like the eating habits of river otters to me, but I could be wrong about that. It would not surprise me to see one there though.
I made it back up to the boat ramp at the Amway access site and called it a day, a grand day! Here’s a map of the area along with the GPS track of my paddle.
There are many options for you to choose from if you would like to give this section of river a try. The entire stretch of the Grand River from Ada to the Northland Drive bridge is like you see in the pictures, forested with very few houses or other signs of human development. The only road that crosses the Grand in this stretch is Knapp Street, otherwise it is about 12 miles of wooded undeveloped river. In fact, of all the rivers I have ever paddled in Michigan, this may be the least developed of any but a few, like the Jordan or the Pigeon. There are a couple of houses near Knapp Street, and some development as you approach Northland Drive, but that’s it.
For solo paddlers, it works great. I know, I did it backwards, you should paddle upstream then drift back, but even my trip was easy enough. But you can put in at either the access site at West River Drive (it is shown on the map above) or Knapp Street and paddle up as far as you want, then drift back down. If you want to use more than one vehicle, you can go downstream between any of the access sites, depending on how far you want to go, and how long you want to stay on the river. It may not be sparkling clear water, and there may not be much current, but if you are looking for a place close to home to spend a relaxing day on the water with abundent wildlife to watch, then the Grand River may surprise you as to how good it can be.
Yesterday, six of us kayaked the Little Muskegon River from the dam at the Altona Riverside Park down to the city park in Morley, Michigan. I guess you would say it was an up and down day, but overall, a great day! The weather started out very nice as we met in Morley and spotted a couple of vehicles in the city park there on the pond. You can continue across the pond to the dam in Morley, where there is another park right at the dam, but taking out there isn’t as good as the city park.
Then we drove up to Altona to put in. The Little Muskegon in this area is between 30 and 40 feet wide most of the time, and a typical Michigan stream with some riffle areas mixed with deeper holes on the bends and near where logs and trees have fallen into the water. The current is moderate, not anywhere near as fast as the Pine or Sturgeon Rivers, but faster than rivers like the Flat or Looking Glass. The gradient is around 5 feet per mile.
We got every one in their boats and on our way without incident, including Mike and Connie’s new boats, which perform very well it turns out. It was a beautiful afternoon as we wound our way downstream through the mixed forests and occasional tag alder swamps along the upper river. We went past the access site at the end of Three Mile Road, which is a DNR site and offers good access to the river if you want to shorten up the trip by about an hour or so. I did notice a few dark clouds, which were a portent of things to come.
We made it to the dam at Rustford, which we portaged on the right, and had a light lunch there at the dam. I don’t know who actually owns the property, but they keep it mowed and maintained, and it makes for a great spot for a break. Last year when we ran the Pine, we took two breaks, which worked out great, so I wanted to try that again yesterday, but things didn’t work out that way due to the weather later in the day.
It was after our break at the dam that things went downhill some what. I was helping people get back in the water, when one of our group flipped as she launched. I watched it happen as I was pushing her off, and I don’t know why she went over, she must have leaned the wrong way or something. We pulled her boat back out and drained it, this time I let Mike help her launch.
I could be wrong as to when we saw what, but for much of the trip we had both an eagle and at least one great blue heron taking off from in front of us time after time as we floated along. I don’t remember if we saw them first above or below the Rustford dam, I think it was before. At regular intervals we would see either the eagle take flight from the top of a tree with its white tail fanned out, or see a great blue heron take off from the river as it was hunting. Somewhere around there, we also saw a deer running through the woods after we had spooked it. We also saw a number of pileated woodpeckers, and there were birds singing in the trees and bushes all along the way. We also saw what I think was a little blue heron and a number of ducks that we never got close enough to for me to identify.
Then things went downhill a bit again, we came to a fallen tree that blocked the river completely, and required that we portage around it, sort of. I don’t remember it very well today, it wasn’t burned into my mind the way the other trouble spots later on were. I think it was pretty straight forward, I pulled out, set my boat off to the side, then helped Mike pull out, and we set his boat off to the side as well. Then, one by one, I helped the women out of their boats, passed the boats over the log jam to Mike, he helped them back in, and we were off again, no big deal. If I am wrong about that, please correct me.
The next trouble spot is burned into my mind much more than the first. I don’t remember why I was lagging behind the group as much as I was, it may have been to change the batteries in my GPS unit, but I do remember coming around a bend in the river and seeing the silver and black of some one’s paddle jammed nearly vertically against the face of another log jam, and that the owner of the paddle was struggling trying to pull a water-logged boat up a steep bank. It was the same person that went over at the launch from the Rustford dam, and other members of the group were going through a small opening on the left side of the logjam to help her out. I knew her paddle had to be retrieved, but it wasn’t going to be easy where it was jammed in the logs. Right next to where her paddle was in the logjam, there was a spot where some one who was good in a kayak could have limbo-ed under the log, which is what she tried, but wasn’t able to pull off. I thought about trying it, I am not sure that I would have made it either as big as I am, but I know for sure I wouldn’t have been able to snatch her paddle off the logjam and gotten down in my kayak in time to make that very small opening.
That left me with the alternative of paddling down to her paddle, grabbing it, then paddling back upstream against the fast current before the hydraulic formed by the logjam could roll me. I carefully positioned my boat so I was drifting downstream sideways and as soon as I could reach the other paddle, I snatched it, shoved off the logjam with my paddle, then paddled for all I was worth to keep from getting slammed into the logjam sideways, which probably would have rolled me. It worked even better than I expected, except that now, I had two paddles and one pair of hands. Every couple of paddle strokes I would have to grab the extra paddle and reposition it to keep it from slipping off to one side of my boat, digging in the water, and trying to spin me sideways in the current. I finally got far enough from the logjam where I had time to stow the extra paddle behind me, which turned out not to be such a good idea. I should have taken it apart and stowed it in a better position. I still had to shoot through the small opening in the logjam on the left bank. I was all lined up to power through that opening, when at the last second, the extra paddle shifted, dug into the water and spun me somewhat sideways as I was going through the logjam. It spun me enough so I slammed into one of the logs, but I was in far enough that I could put both paddles away, and pull myself through the rest of the way by grabbing the branches.
Through the logjam, I paddled over to return the extra paddle to the person who had lost it, and who was struggling mightily trying to hold her water filled boat out of the water on a steep bank. I was just able to shove her boat up far enough so she could hold it fairly easily, when Connie mis-judged the current as she tried to go through the opening in the logjam, crashed into the logjam, and was stuck there sideways to the current. Luckily, the current on the edge of the river wasn’t nearly as strong as it was mid-river, so the hydraulic wasn’t as bad, and Connie didn’t panic and roll like so many people do in that situation. But this left me with a dilemma, stay and help the swimmer, or help Connie so that she didn’t become the second swimmer of the day, I opted for the later. Mike was trying to help, and to be honest, one of us should have just bitten the bullet and gone swimming ourselves at that point, it would have been a lot easier out of a kayak. That would have been too easy.
I paddled over to below the logjam where Connie was hopelessly stuck, got up a head of steam going upstream, and crashed as far of the way through the branches making up the logjam as I could. At that point I was able to reach forward and up to grab a good-sized branch and pull myself up and into the heart of the logjam, to the point where the bow of my boat hit Connie’s boat, and knocked her free of the branch that was holding her stuck in place. My boat and I were solidly planted in the branches, it was like doing a chin-up with a kayak attached. Mike did about the same thing towards the bow of Connie’s boat, and then we used our paddles as pry bars to move branches and Connie’s boat around until she was finally free of the branches, and able to paddle back upstream.
At some point in this timeframe, I think I remember looking over to see the person who had already been swimming twice go over a third time as she tried to re-enter her boat with out some one to help her. I know this sounds cold-hearted, but I didn’t really care by then. She has been with us for a few trips, and nearly every time, she has rolled at least once. After a while, people should realize on their own that maybe kayaking isn’t the sport for them, or that they should limit themselves as far as the types of water they paddle. I like her, I feel bad that she went over, and if I hadn’t been tied up already helping some one else, I would have been there to help her. I don’t even mind the inconvenience to the group as far as the time and trouble her lack of skills cost us, but she is also putting people at risk because of her lack of ability.
I took a long break and debated with myself over whether I should leave the last paragraph in and continue to explain it, or delete it, and I am leaving it. This blog is named Quiet Solo Pursuits, mostly because I am good at offending people. Human nature is a funny thing, if the person who rolled her kayak multiple times yesterday reads this, she will probably be hurt and offended, and never join us again. When the other members of the group find out she’s never coming with us again, or maybe even from reading this, they will be hurt and offended, and mad at me for hurting and offending her to the point where she doesn’t come with us anymore. I would rather the person be hurt and offended, and alive, rather than drowning on a river somewhere because she isn’t very good at kayaking.
I was able to retrieve her lost paddle with not much trouble, but what if one of the less experienced members of the group had tried it, rolled, and gotten caught in the branches of the logjam? It happens, people drown while canoeing and kayaking, and I would rather it not happen to some one I like. But, it makes me the meannie if I tell some one they are very good at the sport, and maybe they should give it up, or not join us on certain rivers.
Something else happened yesterday that fits in with this all too well. A group of teens were jumping into the Kalamazoo River, even though there are signs warning against it. Of of the guys was told by his friends that he shouldn’t try it because he wasn’t a very good swimmer, but he did anyway, and now he is lost and presumed drown. He got caught in the currents and even though his friends tried to rescue him, they weren’t able to pull him out. The power of moving water is nothing to fool around with, people die.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear water, or currents, but I do have a healthy respect for them. As Clint Eastwood said in one of the Dirty Harry movies, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. The same applies to kayakers, male or female.
Where was I? Oh yeah, we had just gotten Connie out of the logjam the first time. I say first time, because the second time she tried to make it through the small opening in the logjam, she got stuck again. Not as bad as the first, I was able to reach through the branches and get enough of a bite on the bow handle of her kayak with my paddle to pull the bow of her boat into the opening, where she was able to pull herself through. It sounds so simple here as I type it, but I know I was working as hard as I could to get her through, and I am sure she and Mike were as well.
After that, we had one other portage, the last logjam looked worse than it was. I beached my boat a few yards upstream, then had Mike come down through some small branches right along the bank until he got to the large logs that couldn’t be moved. I helped him out of his boat, then one by one, he helped the women out of their boats, started the boats over the logs to me, and I helped the women get back in and under way. The only bad parts were that we had to portage at all, and some burning nettles on the bank. If you don’t know what burning nettles are, they are the plant equivalent of jellyfish in a way. They have little bristles that stick into your skin and shoot a chemical into you that causes a burning, itching sensation and a rash. I was wearing long pants so I didn’t get stung, Mike was wearing shorts and got it pretty bad, as he had never run into them before.
It wasn’t long after the last portage that the coolest thing of the day happened. Mike and I were just catching up to the women, and they were all grouped together along the shore. It looked like Connie was taking pictures of the wildflowers along the bank, of which there had been many all day. I saw the flash of her camera go off, then she reached down next to her boat and lifted a very young fawn out of the water. The fawn couldn’t have been more than a few days old. They had seen it swimming, trying to get out of the water, but it wasn’t big enough to make it up the bank right there. Connie tried to get it on shore, but the fawn squirmed loose from her, knocking her camera in the water I guess. She said later that her camera had been in the river, so I am assuming it happened when she picked the fawn up.
The fawn half swam, half jumped its way up the river until it found a place to exit the river, and it was off. I did try to get a picture, but it turned out blurry and the only thing you could see was that something had splashed the water, darn.
I had wanted to take a second break, but between the time we lost on the portages and logjam and the fact that the clouds were getting darker, it is a good thing we didn’t. We felt a few sprinkles once in a while as we crossed the short stretch of the Morley pond we had to paddle. It was raining very lightly by the time we retrieved the vehicles from the put in site in Altona, just hard enough to say it was raining. Great timing.
After that, all of us but one went over to the Moe Z Inn for dinner. The service isn’t the greatest there, but the food is very good, and they even have Blue Moon on tap, just about a perfect day.
Here’s a map that includes the GPS track of our paddle. It took us 5 1/2 hours with the three portages and the logjam.
Just got back home from my first kayak trip of the year. It was supposed to be with a group of people on the Rogue River, but every one else had plans. So instead, I decided to head over to Muskegon to do the first of what will be many trips there. I really want to get back in the Muskegon River delta where it enters Muskegon Lake, but after checking the weather forecast, I decided to do the west end of the lake today. The weather report was for clear skies, light winds, and a high around 50 degrees. Since part of my plans for the west end of the lake included large open water, and maybe out to Lake Michigan, light winds would be a good thing.
I stopped off for breakfast, then picked up my kayak from the storage unit, and when I got to my put in site on Muskegon Lake, there were waterfowl everywhere! I noticed two other things right off the bat when I got to my put in site, it didn’t seem as warm as they were predicting, and there was a southerly breeze blowing when the forecast was for a 5 MPH or less breeze out of the north. Nothing major, I was dressed for it. I loaded up my gear in my kayak and started out from shore. Right off the bat, I had to choose whether to risk ticking off some geese, or some swans. Since the swans were already giving me the Bronx cheer, which is a sign they are about to attack, I chose to risk it with the geese. Since they weren’t nesting, they moved out of my way nicely without any violence. If you’ve ever been attacked by either geese or swans, you know they are vicious birds. A great start to a great day!
All the way across the end of the lake to the channel to Lake Michigan I was surrounded by waterfowl. Geese, Swans, mallards, mergansers, bufflehead, coot, and I think a small flock of canvasbacks too, along with the gulls of course. I could never get close enough to them to get a really great picture, the were all skittish, and as it was the first trip of the year, I didn’t have my sea butt yet. Just like sailors take a while at sea to get their sea legs back, it takes me a trip or two every year to get comfortable enough in the kayak to take good pictures. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the waves were running about 6 inches, which is normally no big deal, but when you’re twisting around backwards in the seat, and not seeing the horizon when you’re looking in the camera’s viewfinder, it takes a while to get the hang of doing it without going over. I wanted to paddle up into the Devil’s Kitchen, which is a small arm of Muskegon Lake, but it was frozen over. Most of it was clear thin ice, and I thought I could break a path through to the open water around the edges of the Devil’s Kitchen, but it was too thick, and I kept getting stuck.
I made it to the channel, and of course the wind coming down the channel off from Lake Michigan was even stronger, and a little chilly as well. It wasn’t bad, the waves were around a foot when I entered the channel, and were a foot and a half to two feet on the Lake Michigan end. I wanted to go out past the breakwater, but with the waves as high as they were, I chickened out. Guess I am getting wimpy in my old age. A friend of mine died last spring up in Canada, of hypothermia, after flipping his kayak. The thing I will never understand about that is that Dave was one of those everything by the book kind of guys. I am sure he would have had all the right gear, and would have known how to use it. And actually, if the swells had been higher I would have kept on going, the waves today were just the right height and close enough together to really rock the kayak. Kayaking a river during the winter is one thing, but being out on Lake Michigan where I would probably be dead before any rescuers could get to me is something completely different.
So I turned around and headed back in, and that was fun! No paddling except to steer, and I was surfing on top of the waves for most of the way. I took a swing around the USS Silversides which is moored there in the channel. The Silversides is a WWII submarine that has the 3rd highest total of Japanese ships sunk during WWII of any American submarine. It was re-assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Reserve after the war as a training ship. When it was de-commissioned, a group from Muskegon bought it, and are restoring it as part of their efforts to preserve a little of our history. I think it is open for tours, but I didn’t check on that, but you can here. There is also a Coast Guard cutter moored there as well.
Muskegon has changed in the years since I used to fish Muskegon Lake a lot, there is a park along the south side of the channel now that I don’t think used to be there. When I got back into Muskegon Lake, I swung around to the south just a short way to check out what looks to be a park there as well. I needed a break to stretch my legs anyway, so I put ashore and wandered the beach there for a ways. It is all sand, but there are also the remains of an old boat dock there, as there are in many places on Muskegon Lake. There used to be 40 lumber mills on the lake, sawing up the logs that were floated down the Muskegon River to the lake. From what I have heard and read, most of the lumber that was used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871 came from Muskegon Lumber mills.
Like everywhere I went today, there were waterfowl all around, from small flocks of 4 or 5 birds, to huge flocks that must have been close to 100 birds. But also like everywhere else I was, they were skittish as well. I think it is because they are migrating birds, once they start nesting, I’ll be able to get some good close-ups.
I started back towards where I put in, which was the Snug Harbor boat ramp in Muskegon State Park, by the way, and tried again to work my way up into the Devil’s Kitchen. I had completely lost track of time and had no idea how long I had been out there, but a lot of the ice from in the morning was gone. I did make it up there a little way, but then ran into more ice and a mean swan, so I was forced to turn around again. I was going to hit the boat ramp, use the restroom, eat lunch, and paddle up one of the creeks that feeds into the lake, but those plans changed. For one thing, the south wind I had fought on the way out had now become the north wind they had predicted only stronger, so I was fighting the wind on my way back in. That always seems to happen when I paddle still water, I end up fighting the wind no matter which direction I go.
The other thing that changed my plans is that just as I was beaching my kayak, a Conservation Officer pulled up to scope out the lake. I walked over to thank him for the job the COs of this state do, as I always do when I run into them. I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep on saying it, the COs in this state are on call 24/7/365 days a year. They know they will be dealing with well armed lawbreakers on a regular basis, yet I have yet to meet one yet that has copped the attitude that most policemen have. They are friendly and very helpful if you give them the chance to be.
Anyway, he and I talked for at least half an hour, probably closer to an hour. As we talked, we watched the eagles hunting, and the flocks of waterfowl on the lake. We talked about the wildlife there, and across the state. He confirmed that the Muskegon River delta area is a great place for watching wildlife, over 10,000 acres of almost nothing, and he gave me a few tips on access sites and other good things to know. He got a call, and had to go check on a possible violator, or we may have still been talking.
I finally checked on the time, and decided it was too late in the day to set out again, so I was packing up to leave when the third large flock of sandhill cranes I saw today flew over. I saw one early, headed north, later, I saw a flock of around 30 fly over the lake, then they started circling and calling over the north shore of the lake. Here and there from the ground, more and more cranes came into view as they took off, and began to form up with the flock that was circling overhead. There had to have been over 50 cranes in the flock when they finally ended the circle, and headed off to the north, it was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed. I was hoping the last flock would do something similar, but they continued to fly on to the north.
With my kayak loaded and my gear packed, I head off to check a couple of the access sites the CO told me about, and stopped off at the headquarters for the Muskegon State Game Area to pick up some information he told me was available there. It doesn’t get much better than today was, yes, it was chillier than it was supposed to be, and the wind was stronger, but not bad. But, seeing the amount of wildlife that I did was fantastic, because it dawns on me now that I didn’t mention all the birds singing along the shore line, or watching a squirrel come down to the lake to drink, or the muskrats, or the deer back in the woods. It was only the first trip of the year, but it is going to be hard to top it.