Joe Writes . . .
There is an environmental movement afoot aimed at removing dams from rivers throughout America, the general premise being “the more natural, the better” in rivers as in most things. I concur with this premise. Chickens are healthier, and their eggs better for you, when they live on grass and eat grasshoppers as Mother Nature intended. Similarly, in my view, rivers can only be healthier when they run unimpeded to the extent possible. And when rivers are healthier, other things will follow.
Dams are already being removed along the Grand; in 2016 dams were removed in both Lyons and Eaton Rapids. Grand Rapids is contemplating dam removal, with plans being considered which would remove the 6th St. dam downtown and implement other changes aimed at returning the river to something more-closely resembling its original state and restoring the rapids from which the city took its name.
We have bumped up against several dams thus far in our journey; specifically, a dam forming the millpond at the headwaters south of Jackson and the North Lansing Dam at Lansing’s Old Town. We will encounter additional dams when we resume our journey in the spring. If we get out on the river in the winter, however, we will stay the hell away from dams because a mistake while canoeing near a dam could easily lead to capsizing, and that would be a damn serious problem in the winter (I know, I know).
Some of the dams along the Grand are privately owned, truly a relic of a bygone era. These dams tend to be in need of repair and are not generating electricity or serving a useful function for society with the possible exception of creating some good fishing holes and minimizing flooding in some cases. Certainly, recreation and flooding are both items which need to be addressed when dams are removed.
Not even a Pollyanna-ish nature lover like me, however, can pretend that there are no drawbacks to removing dams. I recently ran across several articles pointing out that removing Grand Rapids’ 6th St. dam will also have the effect of removing the existing – and effective – sea lamprey barrier that dam provides, thereby allowing these invasive aquatic rattlesnakes to spawn and latch on to unsuspecting native fish all the way up the Grand. The Army Corp of Engineers has been asked to design a sea lamprey barrier to take over that function of the dam if the structure is, indeed, removed. How optimistic concerning a new barrier’s effectiveness is it reasonable for us to be?
Finally, working on this piece has put me in mind of a great old song by The Byrds. Many of the pictures in this video could have come straight from our journey down the Grand. Enjoy.
We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; Joe Neely can be reached at email@example.com. If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have your join us for a day when warm weather returns in the spring.