Thursday, June 07, 2007

Flint Journal - Shiawassee River Article

Thursday, June 07, 2007
By Elizabeth Shaw

HOLLY TWP. - Well, it's official: I would never, ever have won the Holly to Fenton Canoe Race.

Two weeks after the third annual event on the Shiawassee River Water Heritage Trail, a group of us decided to explore the route.

It took the four of us three hours to paddle our kayaks along the seven miles from WaterWorks Park in Holly to Strom Park in Fenton - a far cry from the hour-and-a-half pace set by competitors during the May 20 race.

That's OK by me. My advice is to take even longer if you can. The view is worth the leisurely float.

The well-maintained waterway is a pleasure to paddle, fairly easy for beginners with its shallow, slow-moving water that's mostly clear of deadfall and other obstacles.

But there also are enough twists and turns to keep more experienced paddlers occupied, winding through an ever-changing panorama of backyard gardens, open marshlands and lushly shaded woods.

This year the upstream end has seen huge improvements, thanks to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and REI Inc. of Troy.

Paddlers now start the route at WaterWorks Park by carrying their boats from the gravel parking lot across the new wooden Charles Harding Mott II Footbridge and down a groomed path to the easy canoe launch site.

I've been on stretches of the Shiawassee and Flint rivers where private landowners have refused to let volunteers clear fallen trees back to the shore, apparently in an effort to discourage paddling traffic.

Not so here, where friendly riverside residents seem to welcome the chance to smile and wave.

"Stay to the left going through the tunnel. The other side is all rocks," a homeowner warned as we drifted past his fence toward the metal culverts under Legrand Street, the first road crossing as the river heads north and west.

Further on through the village, another couple waved down at us from their backyard deck.

"The current picks up a little toward Fenton. It's not bad, but you wouldn't want to try paddling back upstream," the woman called out.

We were lucky enough to reach the railroad bridge just in time to meet a freight train roaring overhead.

"Hurry up! We're going to miss it!" my son Nate shouted, paddling furiously to reach the culverts. Just as he reached the bridge, the current caught and held his kayak as he tried to point it through the middle culvert. He was still turning his bow into the tunnel when my own kayak swept in and struck him broadside. Our laughter echoed off the sides of the metal tube as we glided through beneath the thundering train.

Some of the best things weren't on the map at all, such as a beaver dam completely blocking the river near the halfway point. Not exactly white water, but a fun challenge nonetheless. One at a time, we pushed out and over the top of it like a slide made of sticks, our kayaks neatly dropping down to the water about two feet below. (Not to worry: There's also a portage ladder for those who'd rather get out and haul their boats across.)

In a wide flooded marsh, a pair of swans stood guard over their cygnets as we slowly glided past.

It wasn't even hard to keep our weary shoulders working through the wide, weed-choked millpond at the end. All it took was the thought of iced tea and sandwiches awaiting us at the French Laundry just a few short blocks walk away.

Maybe somewhere else it's easy to take days like this for granted. But around here, it's only through the vision and hard work of individual volunteers that our waterways are slowly opening up into the recreational assets they deserve to be.

In this case, the ones to thank are the volunteers and donors of Headwaters Trails, Inc., a nonprofit group dedicated to the construction of a complete land and water trail network in northwest Oakland County's headwaters region.

The group recently received $25,000 from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network to create interpretive signage, pointing out natural and cultural history as well as mileage and directions.

Right now, they're trying to raise $20,000 to buy a one-acre parcel on Fish Lake Road to build a mid-point canoe landing.

The much-needed landing will help keep paddlers off private land - right now there's nowhere to legally stop for a rest break - and offer a shorter option for those who don't have the time or energy for the entire seven-mile stretch.

The Riverducks also are always seeking volunteers to help keep the route clear of obstructions

Headwaters Trails Inc. meets at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month in the Holly village chambers, 315 S. Broad Street, Holly.

The Riverducks volunteer to help clear obstructions from the river several times during each season.

Donations are now being accepted for a new canoe landing at Fish Lake Road.

To volunteer, join or donate, visit or call (248) 634-3513.

Want to paddle?

Join the Fenton Area Paddlers for a Sunday float at 2 p.m. at the west end of Holly Mill Pond at Holly WaterWorks Park, on Broad Street north of Rose Street. Details:

Water wonders

First-place winners of the third annual Holly to Fenton Canoe Race were:

Expert Class: 1:20, Martin Spees of Flint and Jimmy Spaulding of Grand Blanc

Novice/Youth Class: 1:21, Tim and Kurt Marth of Holly

Kayak/Single-person canoe: 1:15:31, Ken Foss of Holly

Pleasure paddle: 1:51, Bruce Lowe, Ben Lowe and Ben Curtis of Holly
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