Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beautiful Weekend, Beautiful River

Saturday afternoon I had an email from my friend Kat asking if I wanted to join her and some friends for a paddle Sunday morning on the River Raisin.  It was going to be a beautiful day, so how could I refuse?  9:30 Sunday morning found me hoisting the Spitfire onto the Prius and then driving over to Sharon Mills to meet the group.

When I was here a couple weeks ago, I visited the mill and walked along a trail upstream of the dam.  Today we were putting in below the dam and our destination was Manchester, about a two-hour paddle away.

The put-in is quite nice - steps and all!

And we even start out with an interpretive sign, which tells us a bit about the River Raisin and the wildlife we might encounter along the way.

We ended up with about eight boats, most solo, but a couple had two paddlers.  And one dog - Ernie.

The sun was just getting going as we launched, the trees still casting some pretty dark shadows.

It wasn't long, however, before the sun was high enough to brighten up the whole river.  Having few leaves left on the trees helped.

This stretch of the River Raisin is really quite nice.  I'd even say it's almost as nice as that stretch of the Kalamazoo I fell in love with this summer.  There is a lot of deadfall, though, so maneuvering skills are definitely a plus.

We were very lucky that there was only one spot where we had to get out of our boats.  Most of the group followed Ben's lead (below) and exited on the offending log, dragging their boats across and then relaunching.  Three of us, however, took the safer route and disembarked along the shore, schlepped our boats through the briars, and then re-entered the water.  Kayaks and Spitfires do not lend themselves well to easy egress.

The first, oh, two thirds of the trip goes through some pretty flat land, nicely forested on both sides.  The current is pretty steady, so one really needs to pay attention, especially with all the trees across the water.

We passed under one bridge - I wonder where this road is.  Hm.

Historically, this part of Michigan had a lot of white pines.  There aren't too many around these days, at least not that I've seen, but here we have a small stand.  I was so impressed I had to take their photo!

Some deadfalls we were able to paddle under, but most required some fancy paddle work to weave through without getting hung up on a submerged limb or trunk, or having the current swing your stern into the next branch before you got your bow aimed around it.

It's a good thing the water wasn't any higher than it was.  There were four culverts here, and only the one on the far left had enough room for us to glide through.

And then we were in forest that had some topography.  Banks!

Some of the maples still have a bit of color in their remaining leaves, but for the most part the recent winds and rains have stripped the leaves from the trees.  Oaks are still holding on to their leaves, but that's normal:  they'll still have them come March.

This one bank, which had a LOT of erosion, also had some interesting holes.  I'm thinking these might be kingfisher nests.  I will be consulting with our resident birder to be sure, however.

The day was just cool enough that we were comfortable leaving our sweaters and  hats on, but warm enough that no one got a chill.  Perfect paddling weather.

About two hours after we launched, we were returning to civilization.  I put my camera away a bit too early - I thought we were at the end, but we still had another 20 minutes or so to go, through some lovely riverside neighborhoods.  

As we hauled out our boats above the bridge in Manchester, we listened to various sirens and church bells.  At first we thought it was the noon signal, but then we saw a rescue truck go by - hopefully it wasn't anything major.  One of our group passed around some homemade brownies as our boats were placed on carriers and tied down, and six of us went for lunch at the Black Sheep Tavern (good food, great prices).  It was after 3:00 when we all finally parted ways.  
I'd recommend this stretch of the River Raisin to anyone looking for a nice paddle that isn't too difficult, but does require a little paddling knowledge.  Thanks, Kat, for asking me along!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A G.R.E.A.T. Day on the Grand

On Sunday, GREAT (the Grand River Environmental Action Team) hosted another paddling trip, this time on the Grand River.   In fact, this trip was co-hosted by my workplace as well - the Dahlem Conservancy.  Despite having a cold (which laid me up for 24 hours Thursday-Friday), I loaded my canoe on my car and drove out to the put-in site, which was north of the City of Jackson.

The weather report was not too reassuring.  Overcast and chance of rain, but mostly sunny in the afternoon.  So, I bundled up with a turtleneck and a new woolly jumper.  I had raingear in my dry bag, and an extra pair of wool socks.  Of course, just as we launched, the sun came out, so I packed my sweater away in the dry bag, only to regret it about five minutes later when the sun disappeared for most of the rest of the trip.  

Still, weather aside, it was a very nice trip.  A large number of folks came out for the paddle, the last one of the season to be hosted by GREAT.  The Grand River had its beginnings just a bit south of Jackson, in Liberty Township.

The Grand lives up to its name, being the longest river in Michigan.  It runs a whopping 252 miles, eventually depositing its load in Lake Michigan.

This stretch of the river was fairly wide and had a good, steady current.  In fact, the current was just strong enough that it made for some interesting paddling, especially when it came to going under or around downfalls.

The area in general, along this stretch, is quite flat.  In the spring, the river will rise about four feet, flooding these lowland forests.  In many ways, this stretch of river reminded me of the Passaic down in New Jersey, where it flows from the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Back in the early '90s I worked for the Somerset County Park Commission at their Environmental Education Center there in the Great Swamp, and as one of the two canoe trip leaders, I did a number of paddles on the Passaic.

We had had a LOT of strong winds blowing Saturday, so many of the colorful fall leaves had been blown from the trees.  These were about the only ones we saw this day that had any color left.

Near the end of our paddle, we came around a bend where there was a bit of a "cliff."  It made for a nice change of pace in the scenery.

This old railroad trestle caught everyone's eye.  I wonder if it is still in use.

About two-and-a-half hours after we launched, we were paddling up to our destination:  a small county park where GREAT hosted a picnic for the paddlers.

The take-out site was a bit sketchy - no shallow, sandy-bottomed shoreline for easy egress.  

We dodged the rain, had good food (thanks, Debbie & daughter), and introduced a few more people to one of Michigan's famous waterways.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exploring the 'hood

Sunday, on my way home from Ann Arbor, I finally decided to stop by this small county park that I've passed several times since moving here.  It's only a few short miles from my home, and the day was beautiful - it just called to me.  

Sharon Mills used to be a little hamlet, consisting of several homes and even a bit of industry.  Today, what remains is the actual mill, the old store (now a private home across the street), and two other houses that are now rental units.  The Washtenaw County Park System owns the mill, and they've done a lovely job preserving and interpreting it.

Come with me for a short tour.

Now, like all good and proper mills of the late 1800s, this one was water-powered.  The water in question  here is the River Raisin (don't you love that name?).  The River flows eastward here, and the builders promptly diverted a portion of it and used its power to operate a mill.  On this site there was once a sawmill (they have an old movie clip inside that they acquired from the Library of Congress, which shows the elderly sawmill operator sawing a log here in the early 1900s), and a grist mill. 

 But ultimately Sharon Mills' claim to fame came down to this man:  Henry Ford (who, apparently has quite a bit of history here in Michigan).  Henry believed that every village could have a small factory that produced some useful product (namely for his automobiles).  Several were set up in Michigan, and Sharon Mills was one of the first (in fact, I think it was #13).

And what did the Sharon Mills factory crank out?  Cigar lighters!

Inside the mill today, all polished and shiny, is the water-powered generator.  When a crowd of visitors gathers round, the interpreter on duty turns the wheel, lets the water in, and the generator starts generating.  The two silver balls on top go round and round, and the lights in the ceiling suddenly begin to glow.  It's a beautiful thing.

Downstairs the building is mostly empty.  There are often weddings held on the grounds here, and I imagine this space is put to good use on such occasions, especially when the weather is inclement.

There were quite a number of folks out this Sunday.  Two or three trails begin at the mill and take off for the woods and fields out back.  I asked the proprietor if dogs were allowed (I'd say that in 99% of the parks and open spaces I've encountered so far, dogs are not allowed), and she said that yes, indeed, they were!  She specifically recommended a trail across the road that went along the river.

 Hooray!  I drove home thinking that maybe tomorrow we'd come back for a walk.  I put the groceries away, and washed the dog (he was starting to get rather ripe).  And after a couple hours I decided not to wait - it was too nice today - we were going to check out the park.  I rigged Toby up in his ski-jor harness and off we went.

It took a little scouting, but we finally found the trail, thanks to a woman named Mary who is renting the house across the street.  The path runs up along the side of the property and into the field behind, where it takes a turn southward toward the river.

And there it is, the River Raisin.  Looks like it'd be good for paddling.

I must say that over all the trail was unremarkable.  One side was field, one side was river, 

and the trail itself ran through the buffer strip of trees in between.

After maybe a quarter mile, the trail turned back north, and we left the river.

We zig-zagged up a small switchback, where I snapped a couple pics of the late-blooming flowers (some asters, 

 some yellow sweet clover,

and some goldenrod).

I could see the legs of the switchbacks weren't that far apart, so I decided to jaywalk across the field instead.

On the surface, this wasn't a bad plan, 

until I felt something poking my leg.  Sand burs!!!  I hate these things.  First discovered them a year or two ago in Johnsburg, where they had the kids from the school in tears and made our fingers bleed when we tried to remove them from our clothes.  Luckily for me, these ones weren't completely stiff and hard yet, so they were painless to remove.

Now we were walking on the uphill side of the field, still in a buffer zone of trees.  Lots of walnuts - poor Toby kept losing his balance as they rolled beneath his feet.

Overall, I'd guess this trail was less than a mile in length - a nice enough little loop.  Although I imagine that it was just as tick-riddled this summer as the fields and roadsides around my house.  Now that summer is gone, so are the ticks.  Life is much improved.

The next set of sunny days we have when I am off, we'll be back at Sharon Mills to check out the trails behind the mill - I am looking forward to it.