Heading Out Again in the Morning

We are FINALLY getting out on the river tomorrow, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Literally. It’s been raining hard for the past hour and rain is predicted for tomorrow, so there’s always the possibility tomorrow’s paddle will be postponed again. C’mon, Lord; I need this!

We will join up with the Grand River Environmental Action Team’s paddle from Jefferson Rd and US-127 in Liberty Township – south of Jackson proper but still in Jackson County – to where the river crosses under Reed Rd, which should be 2 – 3 hours of paddling. We are glad the GREAT folks chose this portion for their first guided paddle of the season as it is an area we have not yet canoed, although we have been close. The end of this trip will leave us just a couple of manageable paddles from the Loomis Rd bridge over the Grand; we’ve already covered trips 5 – 8, through the beautiful Vandercook Lake chain and into downtown Jackson.

I’ve been looking at other canoe trips which would be fun, trips to look forward to after we have finished canoeing the length of the Grand. As far as American rivers go, I would love to explore the headwaters of the Missouri River, in Montana or the Dakotas. Check out some of the great canoeing opportunities offered on the Missouri here. I’ve never been much of a camper, but we’re never too old to grow and change . . . I believe that.

How cool would it be to canoe the Jordan River, to paddle past the spot where The Baptizer knelt and the dove descended? The Jordan flows through the Sea of Galilea and into the Dead Sea, and it forms the border for, in different locations, Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. I’ve read about short floats on the river but wonder if anyone recently traversed it from one end to the other. For political and safety reasons that may not even be possible.

So back to the Grand . . . I went to Cabelas today and bought some waterproof shoes along with a rain pants and a slicker (does anyone use that word anymore?). Rain or shine, I’ve got to get out on the river again.

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Kicking Off 2017 at the Source of the Grand River

across grand lake

Looking across Grand Lake in Jackson County, the source of the Grand River

Joe Writes:

April 15 was unusually warm with fierce winds; steady winds were probably 25 miles-per-hour with gusts up to 35 or 40 miles-per-hour. The result was that our canoeing across the open waters of Grand Lake were curtailed for reasons of safety and because paddling was simply too damn hard. We were on the water for less than an hour, and later in the day the wind very nearly blew the Billie V right off the top of my truck. I’ll not attempt to transport the canoe in such conditions again if I can help it.

Grand Lake is the source of the Grand River and, before seeing it for the first time yesterday I thought of it as being like Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. Barely real, and if it turned out to be real I knew it would be somehow otherworldly. The reality was not far off of that long-held expectation. The water clear and beautiful, the setting serene and unspoiled. Logically this must be the cleanest stretch of the river, here at the very beginning before she has has meandered past farm fields fertilized with phosphorous and nitrogen, before municipalities have returned their borrowed water to the flow.

It’s not easy to explore Grand Lake because there is no public access. I secured permission from a property owner to park in his driveway and access the lake from his land. It seems a shame there is not at least a low-key access point offering non-motorized access to Grand Lake, although I’m sure the few property owners on the lake would, understandably, disagree. Once one acquires a slice of Heaven it seems to be human nature to want to keep it for oneself. ‘Twas always thus. Grand Lake will likely remain an unknown, inaccessible gem.


My companions, Peter and Sean Eldon

The lineup was different this day, but still family. Brother Tom stayed in Grand Rapids to continue preparations to move our mother to a new assisted living facility within a few days; bless him for that. In his place I was joined by son-in-law Sean and grandson Peter Eldon.  Peter is six and did a great job of sitting still when we were on the water, but his dad and I were still a bit nervous for Pete’s sake (groan) in the high winds. Sean is a more experienced paddler than I and took the Billie V’s stern seat. I planned to try some fishing and explore the lake extensively but the wind kicked our butt. A quick across and back on the lake were all we could manage, along with poking our nose briefly into the place where the river flows out of the lake. I suspect the fishing is very good on Grand Lake; two big fish (small-mouthed bass?) flashed under the canoe while we explored the putative channel connecting Grand Lake to Mirror Lake.

I never tire of contrasting the Grand in her early reaches, in Jackson County, and at her terminus where she empties into Lake Michigan.


The Grand a few hundred yards from its source.


The Grand a few hundred yards from its terminus.

And finally . . . 

stone building near grand lake

Loved this stone outbuilding on Vicary Rd near Grand Lake

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Paddling Season is Upon Us

Joe Writes:

God willing and the creek don’t rise we’ll get out on the river in Jackson County this Sunday, April 9, kicking off our paddling season for 2017. It will be Palm Sunday, and while I hate to miss church on that joyous occasion, the Lord knows the Hosanas I shout on the river will be joyous and sincere after a long winter hiatus. Perhaps I’ll try to find some palms for the bow of the Billie V. Granny would get a kick out of that.*

A couple of things could, I suppose, prevent us from joining the Jackson-based Grand River Environmental Action Team’s (GREAT) first paddle of the season. It could keep raining all week, which would likely send already-high river levels too high for us to pass under the various obstacles we are likely to encounter. It could also be just too damned cold for paddling. I would be willing to set off in the snow, but I’m not sure anyone would want to join me. Like I said, God willing and the creek don’t rise.

Here’s the stretch of river we will paddle, beginning south of Jackson (map courtesy of GREAT, http://great-mi.org/default.htm). Interested paddlers will find trip details and contact information on GREAT’s website.

Jefferson US127 to US 127 Reed

*Our canoe is named the Billie V in honor of our grandmother, Luella ‘Billie’ Verschoor. She – the canoe, not our grandmother, Granny’s been gone for years – has been waiting out the winter in my stepdaughter’s backyard. Here’s a picture of the Billie V and my brother in sunnier, warmer times.


Hope to see you on the river in 2017. Better get out there quick – while you can – before the EPA is dissolved and the Clean Water Act is repealed.

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Tom Neely can be reached at timbuktom1@gmail.com; Joe Neely can be reached at joeneely55@gmail.com. Come join us on the river, BYOB (Bring Your Own Boat).

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Glass Half-Full On The Grand

Joe Writes:

It’s difficult to be optimistic about the future of the Grand during these last few weeks of winter, but I’m trying.

First comes the story of 2 million gallons of sewage being dumped into the river just a short distance from where the Grand empties into Lake Michigan. Consider this disaster while absorbing reports that the Trump Administration’s first proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency contemplates cutting funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative  from $300 million to $10 million.


This is where 2 million gallons of sewage recently emptied into Lake Michigan

To be fair, these cuts have not been implemented but simply proposed. It’s not hard to envision, however, a scenario where the “all government spending is bad” crowd reduces the proposed cuts to only 50% of last year’s total and the environmental community responds passively in light of what might have been.

Next comes the Administration’s stated desire to eliminate the Waters of the United States rules implemented towards the end of the Obama Administration. These rules granted the federal government the power to define and regulate (read: stop the polluting of) waters that connect to navigable rivers such as the Grand as well as the navigable rivers themselves. The rules are currently suspended while a federal court considers numerous legal challenges.

Before the Waters of the United States regulations were enacted, the Environmental Protection Agency had the power to stop pollution from being dumped directly into a river but could not always stop the fouling of some non-navigable waters that empty into a navigable river like the Grand. (A navigable river is a river one can ply with a boat of some sort; in our case, a canoe.) What sense does that make? If fertilizer, for example, runs into a small stream and then into the Grand, it still gets into the river – and does the same amount of damage – as would be the case if the fertilizer were to run directly into the river.

Oh, and let’s not forget that the Environmental Protection Agency itself is how led by a climate-change skeptic who – in his former position as Oklahoma’s Attorney General – frequently sued the EPA over regulations intended to protect the environment. How’s that fracking working out for you, Oklahoma? Any chance those earthquakes might be somehow connected? Hey, don’t be so sensitive; I’m just asking.

So what grounds for optimism? Prior to 2013, heavy rainfall frequently caused Grand Rapids’ municipal sewage system to overflow. The resultant sewage spilled into the Grand made the 2 million gallons of  sewage recently spilled in Grand Haven/Spring Lake look insignificant. We are talking billions of gallons over the years. Under pressure from the federal government acting under authority of the Clean Water Act, and with additional pressure and some financial assistance from the state government, Grand Rapids has eliminated 99.5% of its sewage overflows.

I was also interested to learn about a development in Minnesota which seems effective and reasonable in keeping fertilizer and manure run-off out of streams and rivers there. It’s as simple as requiring farmers to maintain a strip of grass along stream and river banks. This grass acts as a filter to reduce the amount of fertilizer and manure fouling the waterways of that state. Yes, there will be some small expense and a figurative taking of a small portion of a farmer’s land in the sense that he or she will no longer be able to plant the stretches along a stream or a river. But the waters of the rivers and streams belong to all of us, so requiring that a strip of grass be maintained by the farmer responsible for the offending run-off seems reasonable. We love our farmers, but we love our rivers, too.

I remember paddling around a bend in Jackson County – between the Loomis Rd bridge and Vandercook Lake, I think – and coming upon a small herd of cows grazing at the river’s edge. It was a fun and unexpected encounter – a bucolic scene – but I remember thinking that the manure would run into the river the next time there was rain. A strip of grass, required now in Minnesota, might be an inexpensive solution to a very real environmental problem.

Looking forward to getting back on the river soon! The Jackson-based Grand River Environmental Action Team is sponsoring a paddle in April and we plan to participate.



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Sturgeon in the Grand?

Joe Writes:

I saw an article about the sturgeon harvest on Black Lake and wondered whether there was a population of sturgeon in the Grand. It turns our there is, indeed, such a population in the river. An M-Live story written by Howard Meyerson and dating from April, 2010 reports as follows.

“Historically, surveys show between 25 and 100 sturgeon spawn in the Muskegon River. . . it is a small but viable, naturally sustaining population.

The Grand River also has some natural reproduction (although) less than the Muskegon or Manistee River, which also has a population, but larger than the Kalamazoo population.

(It is) estimated that a population of 50 to 75 adult sturgeon come to the Grand River during their spawning cycles”

The sturgeon season on Black Lake in Cheboygan County lasted less than two hours, until the pre-determined number of fish were taken through the ice.

From the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

Lake Sturgeon

Sturgeon are the longest lived of Michigan’s fish species and can attain ages of up to 100 years old. They can grow to over 8 feet in length and weigh up to 800 pounds. Male lake sturgeon reach sexual readiness at 15-20 years of age, and then spawn only every other year. Once females mature at about 20-25 years of age, they spawn on average every four years. These characteristics have prevented the recovery of the lake sturgeon, which has been designated as a threatened species.

To read the originally-referenced story on M-Live:





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Camping Along the Grand?

There doesn’t seem to be any camping along the Grand, at least during the first 75% (or more) of the river which is upstream from Grand Rapids.  I was thinking it would be fun to paddle in somewhere, invite a few grandkids to join us and set up camp for a night next summer, but alas . . . I can’t find anywhere to do that.

There is an effort underway to establish a water trail along the middle portions of the river, but I don’t know if those plans include the establishment of any camping facilities.

Anyone got any ideas?  A place along the river where we can camp?




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Ice Disk on Michigan River

This is fun . . . on the Pine River, not the Grand.

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