August 26: Sharp Park to Downtown Jackson

Joe Writes . . . 

Pain in the rump.

Class-A Deadfall outside of Jackson: no getting over this one.

We canoed for 5 hours yesterday and never saw another soul out on the water, at least not until we woke a homeless guy sleeping under a bridge as we approached downtown Jackson.  I’m pretty sure I know why we had the river to ourselves: this trip was damn hard work!  I’m glad I’ve gotten in better shape during the past year or so – I dropped 40 pounds and started exercising 2 or 3 times per week – because otherwise I might have been reluctant to attempt the journey we made from Ella Sharp Park to downtown Jackson.

The difficulties we encountered consisted of deadfall – trees fallen across the river – and shallow water where we bottomed out and had to exit the canoe.  We approach deadfalls slowly; more often than not a tortured pathway through reveals itself and we are able to make our way through the obstacle without exiting the canoe.  These are your average ‘Class C’ deadfalls (I am making this classification system up on the fly).  Class B deadfalls require that we get into the river and pull the canoe up and over the obstruction, and there were several of these yesterday, too.

Most daunting of all are Class A deadfalls, requiring us to pull the Billie V (‘V’ is an initial, not a Roman numeral) out of the river and carry (portage) her and all her contents around the obstacle.  We ran into two of these yesterday.  After we got around the first I swamped the canoe while getting back in, sending both of us and all our gear into the river.  It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose.  Canoes are, by their very nature, unstable and it’s not as if we were able to search out flat easy river bank for taking out or getting back in.  You take what the river gives you; there’s no debating with her*.

The second Class A deadfall was just as we approached downtown Jackson.  This area presented a rather difficult portage in a somewhat desolate setting, and made me think how nice it would be if the river were largely clear so that residents could more easily enjoy its charms.  In fact, what if our rivers were treated like parks and maintained for the betterment of the river, the enjoyment of the citizenry and the overall health of the planet?

Downtown Jackson was very nice and appeared to have a lot of positive things going on: we saw a small but bountiful Farmers Market that operates three days per week through early November; had lunch at the Grand River Brewery, a spot we both liked a lot and where I discovered Brix Soda Company’s delicious root beer  We would have stopped to look at the gorgeously-restored cars on display had we not been so tired, late and dirty

The Grand is a resource Jackson could certainly display and exploit to better advantage.  In downtown Jackson the Grand runs through a spillway and the only vegetation on the banks are weeds fighting their way up through the cracks in rough-poured concrete river banks.  Imagine a river walk in Jackson and a hip retail environment built around a restored river running through the center of town.  It’s a blank canvas right now with limitless possibilities, an exciting time to be in Jackson.

Jackson is by no means the only city which has yet to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a river; Ann Arbor has been talking about opening up river views and access in the North Main Street area for decades, and Detroit has only recently begun to capitalize its riverfront.  Two cities which come to mind as having taken advantage of their riverfront assets are Windsor, Ontario, Canada and Grand Haven here in Michigan.  I’m looking forward to testing the river in Eaton Rapids next year and it will be fun to see what other cities along the Grand have done as well:

*Tom and I discussed whether the Grand is male or female.  Brief research shows that rivers can be either and that the Grand’s gender is not firmly established.  This is a topic for another time, but for now I have decided the river is feminine.

Tom Writes . . . 


Untying the ‘Jesus Knot’ which holds the canoe to Joe’s truck, preparing to put in on Aug 26th.

Next Leg along the Grand River


Our put-in at Ella Sharp Park, just downstream from the Probert Rd bridge.

We put the Billie V. in where we left off last time. That is at the park, right at the Jackson city limit. But, the river is crooked, and we had to paddle east, away from Jackson, away from our ultimate northwest goal. Then back west, to make up for the darn river’s actual course.

Today, we had a long paddle, about five or six hours, when everybody had told us it would take three hours. Oy!

We ended our trip at the Grand River Brewery in Jackson. GRB is a nifty saloon with good food. They also distill their own booze. And they have close affiliation with a couple Michigan wineries, and, as I said, good food. House-made sausages, soft pretzels, Mediterranean pizza, good beer and root beer for us. They took us as customers despite the river mud all over our legs and posteriors.

Joe and I have been somewhat arrogant.  We believed we already had paddled past the shallow parts of the river, and the river blockages. Wrong! Today, we encountered two total blockages, where we had to pull out the boat and drag it around on land. And, we had at least half a dozen instances of low water to the point where we got out of the canoe and towed it to deeper water.

Info for the people who clear out the Grand River: There is a giant tree just upstream of the Probert Bridge, and a huge log jam just downstream from the Jackson Lions Park Bridge. Joe and I will help you clear these, but they are too much for a couple amateurs. We cannot do it on our own.

The Jackson Parks Department or the State of Mich. maybe should take care of these things. These things would be great summer jobs for American high school guys.

And!  Joe and I had our first canoe tip-over today! Details are sort of hilarious. Will explain later.

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at; Joe Neely can be reached at If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have your join us for a day. We have been basing our trips on the routes laid out by the Grand River Environmental Action Team, which can be see here: Our plan is to complete all these Jackson-area trips before the onset of cold weather.



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2 Responses to August 26: Sharp Park to Downtown Jackson

  1. Kat says:

    I’m quite sure I never said only three hours for that trip! I’m actually impressed that you did it in only 5. You will have major dead fall until you reach Onondaga. The river north of Jackson has been straightened and it does not naturally clear itself of log jams.

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