Over the Dam, Through the Chute and Into Lyons

This and That Tuesday 

July 24, 2018. Webber Dam to Lyons, MI. About 7 miles.

Joe Writes . . . 

We could call the stretch of the Grand River between Portland and Lyons ‘Bald Eagle Byway.’ We had numerous sightings of at least three different eagles today. One a mature male, one a mature female (bigger than the male) and one a immature but nonetheless quite large female. Mature eagles have the classic white feathers on their heads; the immature female had not yet developed a white head and had mottled white on her underbelly and beneath her wings. For such a majestic bird the eagle has a sort of undignified, screeching call. Have you ever heard it?

God protects the foolish, at least sometimes. We went over the spot where the Wagar Dam used to be – there is still a two-level obstruction in the river there – dead center of the river instead of running the chute far ‘river right.’ We didn’t capsize but I wouldn’t do it again. Knowing that we had a couple of spots like that today, we wore lifejackets and traveled light, everything stowed securely in water-proof bags.

Why are there no signs warning paddlers of what’s to come on the river from the Webber Dam to Lyons? The first sign should be at the old Wagar Dam site (KEEP RIGHT!) and the second at the site where the dam was removed coming into Lyons (KEEP LEFT!). It would also be a good idea to paint an arrow on the bridge in Lyons, pointing to the chute for paddlers. The fact that there are no such signs or other instructions is probably indicative of how few through paddlers traverse the Grand.

Great wildlife sightings today. In addition to the bald eagles we saw plenty of our blue heron spirit guides, large flocks of geese, wood ducks too young to fly scurrying to get away from us in the water, swallows swooping down to feast, fish jumping – a rolling carp in a shallow spot scared the bee-jeezus out of me, or it could have been a River Nymph, I suppose – muskrat or mink swimming and diving, turtles dropping off of logs before we could get close. It was spectacular. Only one human being, though. A friendly fisherman as we drew near to the end of our paddle. Hey, Michigan: get out and enjoy your rivers!

Got rained on, which occasioned the joint singing of various songs mentioning rain: ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head’; ‘I Wish It Would Rain; ‘Rain’ by the Beatles (Tom claimed it was the B-side of ‘Paperback Writer’ which Google confirms)’ . . . “someone left the cake out in the rain” . . . on and on it goes.

I hope Tom writes about what a pain in the keister it was to find a place to launch today. It’s not always easy to enjoy Michigan’s longest river.

Allison the river-wise manager of the tavern in Lyons told us what happens when eagles mate (didn’t Prince have a song about that?). Apparently the male and female circle way up high and, at the top of their ascent, attach. They then begin to plummet downward and can’t let go of each other until the deed is done. One can almost imagine the female screeching, “Hurry up, damnit! What’s taking you so long?” Quite a contrast to the human experience; ‘eh, fellas? I’ll say no more.

*     *     *

Always take the river’s side. Industry and Big Agriculture have plenty of friends in powerful places. We live in perilous times.

Tom Writes . . . 

July 24, 2018, Webber Dam to Lyons, Michigan

Transition from Northern Central Lower Michigan to West Michigan. (How about all those geographical adjectives? You may need to live in Michigan, even to know what I mean. And, maybe note that the people of Lyons, Michigan pronounce their town as LIONS, the plural of the mighty cat LION, even though our cell phone navigation application says, “Lee-OWN,” after the famous old city in France. That cell phone is trying too hard.)

Today, we already knew where we wanted to finish, and to pull out our canoe: It is a nice sandy beach just downstream from the Lyons Bridge. However, we had to scout on shore for two hours, to find a launching place. There is no ideal launch spot, when one wants to paddle downstream, in this section of El Rio Grande del Norte.

Part of the trouble is the fact that this area is where the excellent canoe charts provided by the Michigan canoe clubs end. So, we had to rely too much on general information from Google Maps, and then drive back along the river, to see the possible places.

First place we looked: the right river bank at Webber Dam. We had had no trouble pulling out and loading up last week at the same dam, just across the river on the left bank. BUT! The put-in place, supposedly a “portage,” was about a quarter mile from the parking lot. We would have had to drag the boat down a steep concrete road and steep steps, across rocks. Or, as an alternative, we would have had to drag it up over a steep forest hill path. No!

Second possible put-in: the site of the former Wagar Dam. We knew the name of the road, but when you turn down that road, the first thing you see is a scary display of No Trespassing! and No Entry! and Private Property! signs. Out in this part of Country Deep-Woods Red NRA Michigan, one takes such signs seriously, but we drove in anyway and found a few houses and cabins, all separated by tall fences, and a couple insulting signs pointed not at interlopers, but at the neighbors themselves. This could have been a good launch place, but No! We did not want to ask any favors of these people. We turned around.

Third place: We went back to the left bank at Webber Dam, and put in there at a less-than-okay spot. We had to drag the boat about three hundred yards, to get below the dam. And, then we had to park far back, away from the river.

We finally got going though, and we had one of our best paddling days. Please read what Joe writes (above).


Having stumbled across our blog, please recommend it to a friend. You will also find us on Facebook. Contact us by leaving a comment here or by email (joe@lengthofthegrand.com, tom@lengthofthegrand.com). Join us on the river some day, we’d love the company but you must BYOC (bring your own canoe).

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1 Response to Over the Dam, Through the Chute and Into Lyons

  1. kevin says:

    We kayaked the Grand Saturday from the Erdman rd end into downtown Portland. We saw over a dozen Bald Eagles including 6 juveniles in the air at 1 time shortly after launching. I think they were looking for salmon. The last mature eagle was chasing a heron near Portland. 3 deer crossed the river in front of us. We saw several Great Blue Herons the and a few turtles sunning themselves on rocks for one of the last times this year. There were probably over 1000 Canada geese. What I didn’t see were the Kingfishers that usually escort us down the rivers. We started kayaking the Grand earlier this year from Lansing to Grand Ledge on 1 trip and from Grand Ledge to Erdman rd on another. A couple years ago a buddy and I pit in at Lyons and went upstream until it got to shallow to progress easily any further. He and I also put in at Portland and kayaked to a dam downstream I forget the name of it. It was the 1st 1 downstream from the Portland dam. Next trip with him will start at Lyons and go downstream. I have done a little kayaking on the Grand near both Lansing. Our larger group is going to backtrack and try the river near Eaton Rapids into Lansing. Ogre and I will try to make it all the way to Lake Michigan. We have completed the Huron from Pontiac Lake to the Detroit River/Lake Erie.

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