Coming Up: Cold-Weather Canoeing

October 29, 2017

Joe Writes . . . 

(Post-publication note: lots of great ideas being received from knowledgeable friends, will update this post with those suggestions soon. Many thanks and keep ’em coming.)

We are considering a cold-weather outing in November, perhaps from Grand Ledge downstream towards Portland over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve been doing some brainstorming on what we need to do or bring in order to be safe and have come up with the following, some of which is original and some borrowed from various articles found while searching the www.

river-ice-lowell

The Grand last year in December; we don’t expect ice at Thanksgiving.

I am no expert in cold-weather canoeing; truth be told, if we undertake this Thanksgiving journey it will be my first cold-weather outing.  What would you add to this list? Some of this advice applies regardless of temperatures, but becomes more important in winter because the river just might kill you if you’re not prepared.

Bring . . .

An extra paddle. If you lose a paddle you don’t want to go wading after it in cold water.

A lifejacket. Wear it. Warm water sometimes – but not always – leaves room to make up for accidents and vanity; cold water does not.

A fully-charged battery for your phone.

A new, secure plastic bag – double Zip-Loc, whatever – for your phone. A good argument can be made that your phone is the most important life-saving item you will carry on your trip, but your phone is no more significant than a fart in a windstorm if it doesn’t work.

(True story: my brother accidentally dropped a plastic bag containing his phone into the millpond at the headwaters of the Grand River. He poked around in the muck and the milfoil to no avail; it was gone. We left to retrieve a vehicle and came back after 30 minutes. The water had cleared a bit so he asked me to call his phone, which I did. Damned if we didn’t see a light begin to flash under water! He got down on the concrete and reached an arm into the water to retrieve his phone, which was dry as a bone inside the plastic bag.)

gr tom searching 4 wallet july 24

. . . and the phone still worked!

A cushion to sit on. Get your buns off the cold seat. Don’t use a towel, use something that won’t absorb water and make matters worse. A towel inside of a garbage bag might work.

A basic first aid kit. The river can be a lonely place during the bright days of midsummer; it’s likely to be desolate in cold weather. You should plan on treating all injuries until you get back to civilization.

Extra clothes and a towel in a water-proof bag. Socks, underwear, pants and a top. If necessary use a second water-proof bag for back-up outer wear, shoes and an emergency blanket.

A plastic bailer of some sort. I used to tell my kids that nothing good happened after midnight, and I’m telling you now that nothing good comes of water in the bottom of a canoe during winter.

Plastic bags for your feet. Maybe you’ve got high-tech, water-proof footwear and, if so, that’s great. If not, something as simple as plastic bread bags – two for each foot, worn over your shoes and secured loosely around your calf with a Velcro strap – can keep your feet dry. Try to keep your feet dry from the get-go but bring extra socks, shoes and plastic bags in case of the unexpected.

Two types of hats, one with ear flaps and one without. Both should be water-resistant. My brother would recommend that you wear a hat which protects your neck.

Lightweight rain gear. The only thing worse than being cold is being wet and cold.

Water for drinking. It may be cold outside but you will likely get just as hot and thirsty as you would on the 4th of July. Drink water on a regular basis throughout your trip, and have extra water available just in case.

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Cranes Are Not For Hunting (at least not in Michigan)

Joe Writes . . . 

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed a resolution asking the Natural Resources Commission to classify sandhill cranes as a gamebird. Once classified as a gamebird, the NRC could seek permission from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish a hunting season on the birds.

What nonsense.

There is no evidence that the population of sandhill cranes exceeds a naturally-image2 (1)sustainable level, hence no need to manage the population by hunting. Furthermore, there is already a remedy in place allowing farmers to kill those sandhill cranes which damage crops, although I cannot find any indication that such crop damage is substantial. To further accentuate the absurdity of this action by the House of Representatives, the sponsor of the resolution described sandhill cranes the “the ribeye of the skies” before admitting he has never actually eaten the bird. Right.

Why, then, did the House of Representatives ask the NRC to take the first step towards establishing a hunting season for sandhill sranes? Apparently because some hunters – and some organizations including the the Michigan United Conservation Clubs – would consider the establishment of a hunting season on cranes to be a positive development in that it would result in increased opportunities to hunt. That sentiment, however, needs to be balanced against the wishes of Michigan residents who, like me, strongly oppose legalized hunting of sandhill cranes.

Fully aware that some will be tempted to immediately label me a liberal, tree-huggin’, gun-grabbin’, anti-huntin’ activist for expressing this opinion, I am compelled to point out that my bona fides as an outdoor enthusiast stack up fairly well. I’m not Mort Neff, but I do alright (readers of a certain age will understand that reference).

The time my brother and I spend exploring the Grand River puts us in touch with nature, and in Michigan’s out-of-doors, on a regular basis. I have held a hunting license at various times in the past, and although I’ve never killed a deer I have tried to do so. I think Ted Nugent’s a fool based on what comes out of his mouth, but I’m OK with him legally whacking and stacking whitetail deer. The best stew I ever cooked was made with Michigan venison loin given to me by a farmer/friend who killed the deer in his back 40 acres. I’ve hunted and eaten rabbits and ring-necked pheasants, back in the days when ring-necked pheasant could be found in south-east Michigan.

I currently have a Michigan fishing license and I’ve eaten trout – trout I caught myself – fresh from a Colorado mountain stream. I’ve even become violently ill after killing and eating a prairie dog . . . shot it with a .22 and cooked it over an open fire on a stick as part of a survival hike back in the 1970’s. (That particular memory had been successfully suppressed until just now and I confess to feeling a bit queasy. It was the worst thing I ever ate, and I wonder if sandhill crane tastes any better. ‘Ribeye of the Sky’ my sweet bupee.)

The last time Michigan’s citizens were given an opportunity to decide they clearly conveyed that not every creature which can conceivably be shot needs to be hunted in our state. Voters soundly rejected legalizing the hunting of mourning doves in 2006, and I suspect the hunting lobby knows that voters would treat the prospect of hunting sandhill cranes with the same disdain.

Yes, I understand that some states allow the hunting of sandhill cranes. That’s wonderful: anyone with the urge to hunt cranes can do so without having to travel too far. This is Michigan, and in Michigan some birds are for hunting and others are not. Leave the sandhill cranes alone.

Links:

Michigan Natural Resources Commission (operating under the Michigan Department of Natural Resources), phone no. 517-284-6237, NRC@Michigan.gov . . . let them know how you feel on this issue!

Michigan Songbird Protection Coalition, http://www.songbirdprotection.com/ , phone no. 517-321-3683, contact@songbirdprotection.com . . . information on sandhill cranes and other Michigan birds.

Contact Us: 

Joe Neely, joe@lengthofthegrand.com

Tom Neely, tom@lengthofthegrand.com

 

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Summer is Over

Rain Raises River, Fills Boat, Soaks Us and our Hats

October 14, 2017 – Dixon Road to Tompkins Road (northern Jackson County, west of Rives Junction)

Tom Writes . . .

Today we paddled a deep-country stretch, about as far into the boondocks as it is possible to go in south central Michigan. A few farm fields on the banks, including an interesting place on the left bank, where somebody has machinery for pumping water out of the river for irrigation. But mostly today, the river was flanked by woods on both banks.

We paddled with two experienced Grand River people. Don Nelson is a true Rivermaster. He recently had cruised this same stretch with chain saws and chains and spud-bars, to clear the paddling path. Jack Ripstra knows the whole river. They both had kayaks. We paddled our canoe, the Billie V. And, I am proud to point out that Joe and I kept up with them very well. They did not leave us in their wakes.

It rained like Noah the whole time. And, I was dressed wrong. I wore my regular summer canoe expedition clothes, and I got drenched. Even my hat was utterly soaked. By the

Sou'Wester Hat

Tom in a sou’wester hat, when he worked as a tugboat captain. (It’s not Tom and he never worked on a tugboat, but it really is the kind of hat he writes about in the final paragraph.)

end, the hat kept direct rain out of my face. That was its only benefit. Otherwise, it just channeled rain onto my head.

We saw a couple of wet herons flying in the rain. We saw a deer. We were lucky that the rain water was warm when it hit us.  I plan to get an old-timey traditional New England fisherman-style foul weather hat, and a real foul weather jacket, before I head out on the river again.

 

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WHO WILL BE THE HERO?

Freeing the River at its Very Source

Joe Writes . . . 

Calling all Golden Knights, Environmental Do-Gooders and Former Polluters looking to atone for past sins: there’s a spectacular opportunity to do something great for Michigan’s environment at a not-too-spectacular price.

gr store sign july 24The Liberty General Store, south of Jackson in Liberty Township, is for sale. It’s a nice enough store: couple of gas pumps with shelves offering booze, beer and beef jerky. The manager’s been helpful to us and he keeps the place looking good. The asking price is $365K (according to the Realtor and despite the higher price in the listing), which is about the price of an  average home in the subdivision next to my condo complex in Ann Arbor.

But what makes this opportunity special is that the sale includes frontage on the millpond behind the store and, most importantly, ownership and control of the dam that grudgingly releases water from the millpond. That released water, after tumbling down the face of a concrete wall, becomes the Grand River. The millpond and the dam are often referred to as the headwaters of the Grand.

The dam has been there for more than a hundred years, but it no longer serves any purpose. There’s no mill, hence no need for a millpond. The dam once generated electricity, but hasn’t done so for a number of years. Furthermore, the dam is privately owned. What happens when it needs expensive maintenance? What if the owner said, “Nah, I don’t have that kind of money. Let it crumble; it’s not doing me any good”? Who will be held accountable if the dam suddenly and catastrophically fails? I doubt that a closely-held corporation with minimal assets, an entity formed to operate a party store, would be able to make good on the ensuing damage.

 

Our dream, then, my brother’s and mine, is that some environmental savior would buy the property and begin the process of working with state and local government – and affected property owners – to remove the damn dam. Hey, maybe the State of Michigan should buy the property. Even in these days of budget and tax cuts, the state has a proper and vital interest in owning and controlling the starting point of our longest river . . . especially when that can be accomplished at this price.

There is a movement toward removing dams along the river in an effort to restore the river to something that more closely resembles its natural state. The results of dam removal have included increased recreational opportunities and improved fish habitat. Eaton Rapids, Dimondale and Lyons are among the municipalities which have removed dams that were deteriorating and no longer served any purpose. Grand Rapids continues to evaluate a major dam removal and habitat restoration project.

I’m not a scientist nor an engineer, but certainly scientific and engineering factors need to be taken into consideration when contemplating major changes like this. Private property rights will be at stake and those concerns must be addressed as well, so whoever buys the property should have pockets deep enough to hold on through the decision-making process, which would likely stretch on for several years.

So there you have it. What else could any person or organization do which would have such a significant impact on the health of the Grand River and, indeed, the environmental health of our entire state? This opportunity will not last forever. Someone may buy the party store next week, someone with nary a drop of interest in the Grand River. The property can be had for $365K, give or take a few grand. My brother and I wish we could buy it. We can’t, but we’d throw what we can afford into the kitty.

Who will step up to the plate here? Do it for the river. Do it for the state. Do it for yourself.

Postscript – My brother Tom deserves credit for coming up with this idea, at least between the two of us. I blew him off at first but now I’m as passionate as he has been from the start. We have written about dams previously; see the entry dated December 11, 2016 and entitled “Remove the Dams?”.

 One final thought. If you agree with this post, would you please share it (on Facebook and other social media, by sending a link to friends, etc.)? The more people who read the post, the more likely we are to find some person or organization that could make this happen.

Contact Us:

Joe Neely, joe@lengthofthegrand.com 

Tom Neely, tom@lengthofthegrand.com

 

 

 

 

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Walk a Mile in Our Shoes

Back to the Source – Foot Paddling

September 29, 2017

Tom Writes . . . 

Downstream from the Liberty Millpond Dam

mill pond dam

Water flowing over the Liberty Millpond Dam.

On July 24, 2016 (last year), we started this adventure at the Liberty Millpond Dam, near Grand Lake, the river’s primary source. On that first day, we paddled upstream, on the Millpond and its associated waters, a sort-of lake with no name. If you scroll all the way down to our first blog posts, last year, you can read about it. (And, you can see a photo and a video of the dam in winter, if you look at our January 7, 2017 posts. You also can read what Joe wrote on April 16, 2017, about paddling Grand Lake with one of his grandsons.)

Right after that dam, the river really is more of a creek. It is not deep enough to float a boat. So, last year, we skipped ahead to deeper water. For our second leg last year, we took our canoe to the Loomis Road Bridge, far enough downstream, deep enough that we could paddle most of the time. August 7, 2016.

BUT! We always knew we had to go back to that early skipped part of the river. We did it

ripples bottom mill pond

Riverbed rocks made for difficult walking, these just below the millpond dam.

today. We had to walk right in the river, mostly, on top of sharp rocks, through clear water and black muck. . No roads or trails along the route. Only a few places where we could walk along the bank, in people’s yards. I worried that the people might not like to see us in their yards, but no problem. We saw one guy cutting his grass. We waved at him, but he ignored us. A woman at another house greeted us cordially, welcomed us, and laughed at us.

Our river is only about eight feet wide in this stretch. We encountered fallen trees that blocked us. In one place, we got over a fallen tree, but then got stuck in vines that grew all over the tree. Honestly, we were trapped. I was able to claw and thrash the vines enough to get out, and Joe was able to crawl after me. This may seem silly, but it was a big deal. It took about 15 minutes. I came out with a bleeding leg and a bleeding forearm.

vines on the grand

These are the vines from which Tom emerged bloodied and bruised. Traveling the Grand in Jackson County is hard work.

Today was a beautiful sunny early Fall Michigan day. I spent most of my day looking down, at the rocks in the river. I had to remind myself to look up sometimes, to try to see birds and butterflies. But, I mostly just looked down. I saw a few minnows and fish plus clam shells, but I believe Joe, who was ahead of me, scared most of the wildlife away, before I had a chance to see them. I did hear some Blue Jays.

Today, we closed a big gap in our source-to-mouth Grand River adventure. In October, we intend to make it half way. We will close our other gaps. And then we will have done the entire river from source to Grand Ledge. Then, maybe, next year, we might make it to the river mouth, our home town, our home pier, our home beach, Lake Michigan, Grand Haven, Michigan.

tom shallow rivfer

A jaunty Tom just minutes into the day’s journey, before doing battle with rocks and vines.

(Editor’s Note: It is often said there are two sources of the Grand River. Under this scenario there is the Main Branch, flowing out of Grand Lake in Liberty Township/Jackson County; there is also the North Branch, flowing out of Center Lake in Leoni Township/Jackson County at Michigan Center. These branches of the river merge at US-127, east of Jackson, and from there the Grand flows as one river to Lake Michigan. Most efforts to paddle the entire river, it seems, start at Michigan Center because it is easier to float a canoe or kayak there. We consider the waters flowing out of Grand Lake to be the true source of the river and have concentrated our explorations in that area.)

CONTACT US: joe@lengthofthegrand.com or tom@lengthofthegrand.com

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK: Length Of The Grand

JOIN US ON THE RIVER: BYOC (Bring Your Own Canoe)

 

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The Grand and the Betsie: Two Different Rivers

Joe Writes . . . 

I recently stopped at an old friend’s cabin on the Betsie River in northern Michigan, not far from (as my brother might say) the nifty Lake Michigan town of Frankfort. I had not been at my friend’s place since the late 1970’s. We stood at the top of the bluff behind his cabin, looking down 50 or 60 feet into the river’s shallow, clear water. So clear I could see tremendous fish – salmon, I think – swimming just hard enough against the current so that they stayed in place. The fish are visible in the center of this photo; keep in mind that we were way the hell up in the air on the riverbank.

fish in water on betsie

See the fish? Dead center.

The Betsie River is clear laughing water and blue skies, a river without a care in the world. The Betsie is wind power and fly-fishing. Hipsters. Duck hunters in corduroy.  Ever-so-rarely the Betsie is a grizzled fisherman keeping watch o’er his bobber, but mostly the river is Chad and Jeremy singing A Summer Song on a sunshiny, wispy-cloud day.

Our river, the Grand, is working-class. Groaning, struggling, carrying the weight of the world on its back. The Grand is blue collar with Richie Rich occasionally slumming it in a million-dollar-boat near the Big Lake. The Grand is coal-mining, ship-building smoggy Newcastle. The Grand is Eric Burdon fronting the Animals in 1965. We love the Grand but sometimes  We Gotta Get Outta This Place.

The Grand will never be the Betsie, and that’s ok. I’ll never kick her out of bed for eating crackers. Flow on, Your Tired Majesty; flow down to the sea.

P.S. I suspect that most people were prone to jumble up the songs of Chad and Jeremy and Peter and Gordon’ back in the 1960’s. My favorite song among both duos repertoire was ‘I Go To Pieces’ by Peter and Gordon. That song was written by Del Shannon, he of ‘Runaway’ fame. Del Shannon was born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids is split by and built around the Grand River. Del Shannon grew up in Coopersville – west of Grand Rapids – and lived for a time in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he sold carpet, worked in a warehouse and drove a truck by day while playing music by night.

P.P.S. If you decide to visit Frankfort  you can get one hell of a perch sandwich at Port City Smokehouse. You can get other lake fish there as well – fresh or smoked – and top-notch beef or turkey jerky, too. 

the betsie general pic

The clean blue waters of the Betsie go laughing along.

CONTACT US: Joe@lengthofthegrand.com or Tom@lengthofthegrand.com

JOIN US ON THE RIVER: byoc (bring your own canoe)

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK: Length Of The Grand

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Invasive Mussels on the Grand River

Tom Writes . . .

During our last trip on the river (Monday September 11 – we already wrote about it), I forgot to write about the mussel shells. When we portaged around Moore’s Dam, and put back in, we saw many hundreds of thousands of mussel shells. The whole area on the right bank, call it a beach, maybe, was entirely covered in dead empty mussel shells.

mussels

photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

All the area under our feet, under the canoe as we dragged it back to the water was mussel shells. Not just a coating, but a deep layer, probably at least a foot deep. These mussels are an invasive species, originally brought here in the ballast water of ships from Europe, not too terribly long ago.

We have seen other types of shells on our river cruise, including native clam shells, including clam shells as big as a human hand. But, these maybe millions of mussel shells really made an impression on us.

We have read about these invasive mussels, but we never saw them before in real life. They are a big deal. Imagine, maybe, that all the sidewalks in your American neighborhood got covered in some sort of European worms. That is what the invasive mussels have done in this stretch of the Grand River.

Editor’s Note: To learn about the devastation mussels and other invasive species have visited upon the Great Lakes, pick up a copy of The Death And Life Of The Great Lakes by Dan Egan (W. W. Norton & Co., 2017). The following excerpt from page 123 refers particularly to the invasion of quagga mussels:  “The chaos this has brought is like nothing – not even the sea lamprey – the lakes have suffered in their 10,000-year history.”

And now come the Asian Carp . . . what hath we wrought?

 

 

 

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