Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Early Spring Canoe Trip

Saturday morning looked to be a good day for an early spring canoe trip. The skies were clear and the air brisk. It was still below freezing as I loaded up a canoe and a kayak on my truck. My brother and his daughter met me and we headed a bit north of here to a section of the Thornapple River I’d never run. Actually, I was surprised that this section isn’t featured in my guide book to canoe trips in the state.

We put in at the Irving Dam, one of several small hydroelectric dams along the river. The snow is all gone and the river has dropped from his height of a week or two ago. Following along the river is the former railroad bed of the Michigan Central, which was taken up in 1984 and is now the Paul Henry Trail, a part of the North Country Trail. In the morning, we had some tricky maneuvers around log jams, especially at one of the two old trestles we passed. The trestle log jam required getting out of the boat and lifting it over logs, being very careful not to slip into the chilly water.

As we approached the town of Middleville, there were a number of other log jams as we entered the backwaters of the Middleville Dam. These we were able to snake through. The water slowed and, waterfowl was abundant: swans, geese, cranes and various ducks. We also spotted a number of muskrats.

As we got into the village, we headed to the portage. Here we had to take the boats out of the water, cross the only bridge in town and then take it down below the dam to another launch. Here, I’d brought a cable and lock, and we secured the boats to a tree and walked Main Street where we enjoyed a nice lunch. The town has several good places to eat: a deli, Champs Bar and Grill (a little smoky, but a great place for a burger and beer), two pizza places and Cracked Pepper. We chose the latter, the most upscale establishment for some dirty boaters.

I wonder how much power this dam is using. At least they're still producing power with it, but if it wasn't for these dams, we may had tried our luck steelhead fishing!

After lunch, we continued on for another four or so miles on the river. The air had warmed quite a bit since morning and only a light jacket was required. I wore no gloves, just made sure to keep my hands out of the water. The flow was steady and there were no major obstacles. We continued to see ducks along with evidence of some beaver activity. The last trestle, where the old Michigan Central line turned northwest toward Grand Rapids, was surprisingly clear of debris. We took out at the next bridge. My brother waited with the boats as I niece drove me back to pick up my truck. We drove back, loaded up the boats and was home before five.


  1. It's an entirely different world on the river looking towards the shore than standing on the shore looking out at the river. It is a feeling entirely different from what our ancestors who virtually lived on the rivers would have felt.

  2. That looks awesome, but I'll bet that water would be mighty cold. (Nice to see the floatation vests!) Glad it wasn't too fast or filled with debris... I look forward to that steelhead fishing post!

  3. Ed, You also see more wildlife from the water.

    Beau, I'm ashamed to say that it's my brother and niece sporting the PFDs. I was using mine as a back rest on the kayak... I do wear them when it's really cold (like winter paddles) or when I'm on large lakes or in white water--I often don't because I have fishing gear that I'd be going in for if the boat tipped.

  4. Looks and sounds like you had a lot of fun!


  5. This makes me want to go out and buy that kayak...

  6. Tim, it was.

    Jen, GO FOR IT! Where you live, you can use it all year.

    Vince, yes, there is something about flowing water that calms the soul.

  7. It sounds like it was time well spent in a good company and a wonderful scenery.

    I work with water, and there's a lot of life and beauty inside it!
    I'm glad you enjoyed the journey!

  8. Looks inviting. What's a good canoe guide for Michigan?


  9. Leni, I never knew you worked with water--interesting! Have you read Craig Childs? He a hydrologist that works in the desert of SW US.

    Randall, I don't have a good recommendation--I have one I won't recommend, but I'm in my office and it's at home. This earlier trip shows the limitation of my guidebook:

    If there's a river you're looking at, let me know and I'll tell you what I know about it.

  10. Well familiar with area! Usually ate at Sams Joint, or the golf course..Swamp Fox still there?

  11. Which "Sam's?" There's not one in Middleville, but there is one in Caledonia, another in Alaska (near the river, but a ways downstream). Early in my blogging days, I wrote about it:

    The Swamp Fox is still there, but it isn't in the village by the river but out on the highway.

  12. Sage
    The good wife and I have walked the old trail south out of Middleville a short distance and really liked it. Her favorite eating place in the MIddleville area is the Cracked Pepper. That Chef also gives cooking classes.
    thanks for the neat article.

  13. There's also a Sam's Joint at Gun Lake.

  14. I think we need to get Murf in a canoe.

    Though in summer.

    I don't canoe until the water's warm enough I won't catch hypothermia if I can't get out of it for a few minutes.