Ice Disk on Michigan River

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

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The River in Winter

 Joe Writes . . . 

Driving across the state from Ann Arbor to Grand Rapids and back today, I took the opportunity to check in on the Grand in a few spots, including two areas we canoed this summer.  The contrast was great, as today’s high temperature was about 15 F (-9.44 C).

The bridge over the Grand River at Loomis Rd In Jackson County, the same view in August and January:



The millpond behind Liberty General Store in Jackson County, summer and winter views.  Water from the millpond spills down to mark the start of the Grand.

gr spider bridge july 24


The Grand begins.  I wonder what would happen if this dam were removed?  See the link to a video of this view, below.


Here you see the ice-choked Grand just downstream from Lowell, as it approaches Grand Rapids.  Compare the river’s width here to the pictures from the Loomis Rd bridge at the top of this post.


20 seconds of relaxation: the beginning of Grand River behind the Liberty General Store in Liberty Township, Jackson County, Michigan.

We would love to hear from any who may stumble across this blog: Joe Neely can be reached at, Tom Neely can be reached at  If you have a kayak or canoe we would love to have you join us for a day when warm weather returns in the spring.

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Remove the Dams?

The North Lansing Dam on the Grand River

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.


Lampreys latched on to a Lake Trout (Photo Credit US Fish & Wildlife Service)

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; Joe Neely can be reached at 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.

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Trump Wins Along the Grand, too

Vote for me and I’ll set you free!

Joe Writes . . . 

Michigan’s Grand River runs through seven counties.  Those counties – listed in order from the river’s source to its terminus – are Jackson, Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Ionia, Kent and Ottawa Counties.

In the Presidential Election of 2016, Donald Trump won six of those seven counties.  Trump received 50% of the votes in the counties along the Grand, as opposed to the 48% he received while winning statewide.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, received 44% of the votes cast in counties along the Grand; statewide, Clinton received 47% of the votes cast.  Third-party candidates did slightly better along the Grand than statewide, 6% vs. 5%.

The only county on the river to give the majority of its votes to Hillary Clinton was Ingham – home to Lansing, Michigan’s capital – where Clinton garnered 61% of the vote.  Trump drew 33% of Ingham County’s vote while other candidates, largely the Libertarian and Green Parties, registered 6% of the total votes.

Both Ionia and Ottawa Counties gave Trump 62% of the vote for President, his best showings along the river.

Sharing a name with a county did not translate into increased votes.  In Clinton County, Hillary Clinton received only 41% of the votes cast for President.  Clinton County is named for DeWitt Clinton (1769 – 1829).  DeWitt Clinton was a United States Senator from New York and also served as Governor of that state.  He is credited with being the driving force behind the construction of the Erie Canal.


DeWitt Clinton, no doubt puzzling over some aspect of the Erie Canal.

Source for vote totals:

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Write For Our Blog . . . Please

Joe Writes . . .

In July my brother and I set off on the first leg of our quest to paddle the length of the Grand River.  We have covered most of the river from the headwaters in Liberty Township to downtown Jackson.  Seeking deeper water and a wider river, we recently skipped forward to paddle from Lansing to Grand Ledge; we will return next spring to cover portions of the river skipped over thus far.  We are documenting our journey in this blog.  To create awareness of the river, its resources and opportunities, we invite anyone with a connection to the river to contribute an entry to our blog.  Some possible topics are listed below, but writers are free to write about anything connected to the Grand and life along its banks.

  • How is the river important to you or your community?
  • Rivers can be referred to as either masculine or feminine; which do you think applies to the Grand?
  • How has the Grand changed during the time you have observed it?
  • What do you like most about the Grand? Least?
  • Describe some of your best – or worst – experiences on the Grand.
  • What are your hopes and dreams for the river’s future?
  • Memoir, fiction or poetry inspired by/set on the Grand.

Contact information for inquiries or to submit an entry for the blog:

Joe Neely, no. 734-276-0612,


You cannot step into the same river twice.” (Heraclitus of Ephesus)

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Lansing to Grand Ledge

Tom writes . . .

Lansing, Michigan to the Nifty Town of Grand Ledge, Michigan, October 18, 2016

We put the boat in the water just below Lansing’s substantial dam. Foamy water with some sort of sewer smell. Lansing is our Michigan state capital, so that sewer smell might have been politics, rather than actual sewage.

The river is wide and swift in Lansing. About fifty to seventy-five yards wide today, much wider than before, too wide for a single downed tree to block it. A better situation than earlier legs of this trip, when downed trees often blocked the whole river. (In case you think in meters rather than yards, a yard is almost exactly equal to a meter.)


Finally,  a river down which Huck and Jim could float.  Contrast with pics in previous posts of a creek-like Grand near the river’s source in Jackson County.


We had a swift current taking us in our desired direction, but we had a stiff wind in our faces all day. We worked pretty hard paddling against that wind.

This time of year (autumn/fall), colorful tree leaves are a major topic in our home state of Michigan. Today, in southern central Michigan, in mid-October, the leaves along the Grand River had turned about 30 percent, from green to red, orange, and gold. Lovely. But, in a couple weeks, they will be magnificent.

We had mostly cloudy weather today, so the changing leaves were not as magnificent as they would be in bright sunlight. Still, we had lovely scenery.

We passed under approximately nine bridges today. We saw about eight people out on the river, only one in a boat (kayak). Spoke with a fisherman who was seeking bass. Many nice homes along this stretch. Some houses seemed too low, too close to the river level. Do they get flooded every year?

Do you know that Great Blue Herons like to fly ahead of boats heading down rivers? A certain Heron flew ahead of us for an hour or so. It would take off just as we reached it, and then settle on the river bank, and wait. Then, it would take off again, and lead us downstream. Herons are common along our river. Joe says they look like Pterodactyls.

Other birds: We saw a large flock of wild turkeys moving through the woods, when we stopped for lunch. (Lunch was delicious roast beef and salami sandwiches with Swiss cheese on fresh bagels. Joe brought them.) Maybe, I saw one hawk. Hawks were more common on earlier legs of this trip. We saw an eagle early in the day, not far from downtown Lansing . Large flock of Mallard Ducks, medium flock of Canada Geese, flock of other whitish geese at our destination pull-out place at Grand Ledge. Not clear whether these were migrating birds or birds that stay over.  I guess that the ducks and the white geese will migrate, and the Canada Geese will stay over the winter.

I used to be the family rope/knot guy, but my knots actually have failed holding the canoe onto Joe’s truck. Joe has invented a new knot, and it works, stays tight. Now, when we tie the boat onto the truck, Joe has a polite way of keeping me from tying knots. He steers me away. And does it himself. In a future post, I will teach you Joe’s new knot.

Music between Lansing and Grand Ledge

We sang while we paddled. We concentrated on 45 rpm singles we used to own. Great soulful tunes that were not actual Motown records:

  • Spyder Turner’s version of Stand by Me.
  • Love Makes the World Go Round by Deon Jackson. Deon was from one of our home towns, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Joe and I have several hometowns, because our family moved around when we were kids.)
  • Dead End Street by Lou Rawls.
  • Barefootin’  by Robert Parker.

And others!

Joe adds . . . 

Tom pretty well summed up yesterday’s journey on the Grand River.  The only thing it occurs to me to add is simply the observation that the river – and most rivers, I suspect – is a great place to gain some solitude, if solitude’s something you’re looking for.  Within just a few minutes of setting off from downtown Lansing we were in a peaceful, quiet place and things pretty much remained like that throughout our 3.5+ hours on the river.

Here’s a few pictures from our trip.


My view from the pilot’s seat in the stern.  I insisted Tom wear a life jacket, now that the water underneath the Billie V has some depth.  As the captain- at least for this leg of our journey –  it is my prerogative to issue such orders.


We pulled in at someone’s river camp to eat lunch, about 90 minutes of downstream-paddling from Lansing.


The door was broken at our lunch spot, but otherwise the cabin was in good shape. I guess Huck Finn was on my mind; I thought of the cabin where Pap stashed Huck away for awhile.


These mushrooms – they are mushrooms, right? – were found near our lunch spot. My eyes were first drawn here by a flock of wild turkeys parading through the woods.

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Grandma Verschoor’s Chili Sauce (a slice of life along the Grand River circa 1935)

(Weather, work, and travel – in short, life – have kept us off the river for a month now.  We hope to get out on the Grand at least once more before the snow flies and will renew our quest to canoe the entire length of the Grand River next spring.  Meanwhile, please enjoy this piece by our mother, Catherine Verschoor McNabb, who grew up just a couple of blocks from the river in Grand Rapids’ North End.  She is pictured below 4 or 5 years before the events described in this story.)


Ten or 11 years old, I skipped eagerly into my grandmother’s house.  Large pots of tomatoes, green peppers and onions simmered on her stove.  The air was perfumed with warm clouds of brown sugar, vinegar, and cloves.  The year was 1935 or 1936.  My family, our neighbors in Grand Rapids and the nation yearned for relief from the GreatDepression.  World War II was not yet visible on the horizon for most Americans.



Luella (Billie) Small Verschoor. Our canoe, the Billie V, is named for her.

Harvest season had arrived and the Verschoor women were making chili sauce.  Our chili sauce was not the ketchup-with-a-kick variety available in the condiment aisle of any grocery store today, but rather a simmered blend of the season’s bounty which sprang from our Dutch heritage.  My mother, Luella Small Verschoor, had Irish-Protestant roots but married into a West Michigan Dutch family after her husband was discharged from the Army and returned from France following World War I.

In the kitchen Grandmother Nel Verschoor, my Aunt Clara and my mother were gathered around the stove.  Grandma Verschoor was the connoisseur taster, the ultimate authority as to when a batch of chili sauce was ready.  Aunt Clara was the designated stirrer while my mother, as I recall, did a bit of everything.

Chili sauce takes a long time to produce with much cutting, chopping, peeling and measuring.  Certain ingredients must be processed first, with the remaining ingredients incorporated in the proper sequence.  The spices, brown sugar and vinegar have to be just right; not just any old Dutch lady could manage it all.  I would one day become an apprentice taster and considered that advancement a significant rite-of-passage.

Once completed, jars of chili sauce were passed out to special friends, relatives and neighbors.  Believe me, these were treasured gifts.  No pot roast was worth its salt without a scoop of chili sauce, 1000 Island Dressing was incomplete without it, and no hamburger ever tasted quite so good as when dressed with chili sauce, mayonnaise and a slice of fresh tomato.

Sunday afternoon dinners nearly always included chili sauce when our extended family gathered after church.  I remember those family gatherings fondly.  It was at one such gathering, probably during the summer of 1943, that I proudly informed my family about my new job in a factory.  Like many women at that time, I would be filling in for the boys and men who were overseas.  My Uncle Stan shocked the Sabbath gathering by suggesting I would need “tin pants” when I started my new job.  At another Sunday gathering my mother silenced the room by referring to the Apostle Paul as “an old fool” because of his teachings on women in the church.

The Dutch of West Michigan were perceived to be pious, frugal and stern although in my family such attributes were balanced by love and kindness.  My dad, Leonard Verschoor, bought ice cream cones for me and my cousin Jimmie DeBoer at the beach on Sunday afternoons.  That indulgence on the Sabbath may have been viewed by some as almost sinful but Dad, a respected elder in the Dutch Reformed Church, said God wanted people – especially kids – to have good times and nice memories.

Years later my second husband and I decided to attempt a batch of chili sauce.  He had fond memories of something similar but did not have his family recipe.  He was a civil engineer and made sure we were meticulous and precise in our measurements and planning.  We bought the fresh ingredients at the local farmers’ market and chopped the proper amounts of peppers, onion and celery, then sealed everything in separate plastic bags and put the bags into our freezer.  Peeling a half-bushel of tomatoes was the next chore and they, too, were frozen ahead.  When all was in order and the moon was in the right phase we were able to pull it all together in jig time; none of this slap-dash last-minute stuff for him!  I will admit it did go a lot faster when it came to the final cooking.

We lived in a high-rise retirement community in Holland, MI and the aroma drifted into the hallway, seeming to summon neighbors to our door, curious about what we were cooking.  We had fun and the chili sauce was tasty enough, but something was missing.  I decided I missed the convivial aspects of doing it all at once and making a big mess.  My own copy of the recipe is written on a card in my mom’s own hand.  I treasure it.

Verschoor Chili Sauce Recipe

½ bushel peeled tomatoes, 6 stalks celery, 6 sweet green peppers, 2 quarts onions, ½ cup salt, 2 quarts vinegar, 4 pounds brown sugar, (in a spice bag) 4 sticks cinnamon, 2 T dry mustard, 2 T ground cloves

Chop first four ingredients, cook 15 minutes.  Remove about half the juice – save for soup. Add other ingredients.  Cook 1½ hours, stir often.  Put up in glass canning jars, process in water bath.  Makes about 8 quarts.

Last year Catherine Verschoor Neely McNabb returned to her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan following the death of her husband.  Sweethearts at Grand Rapids Central High School before being separated by World War II and by life in general, she and Bill McNabb married late in life.  They prayed for five good years together and were blessed with 17.  Her memoir, “Around the Next Corner: The Writings of Catherine McNabb,” is available as a Kindle e-book from  This piece is excerpted from her writings, and was previously published in the magazine of the Dutch International Society .  Catherine McNabb celebrated her 91st birthday in August of 2016.

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