Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kayaking along the Shiawassee

Tri County Times
Fenton, Michigan 48430

Kayaking along the Shiawassee

Shiawassee River - It was a beautiful, sunny day when I kayaked seven miles along the river with Susan Julian, vice president/president-elect of Headwaters Trails, Inc. After she provided me with some information about Headwaters Trails, Inc. and its activities, for another story, she asked me if I wanted to try kayaking.

The rest, as they say, is history.

We made the trip last Wednesday, during 80-degree weather. It was cool and pleasant, though, as we paddled from Waterworks Park in Holly to Strom Park in Fenton. Susan, who obviously knew the Top of the Shiawassee Canoe Trail well, pointed out when we left the Village of Holly, entered Holly Township, moved into Fenton Township and reached the millpond in Fenton.

The trip, which took us four hours, usually takes three or four hours to complete, she said.

Along the way, Susan collected seeds from native plants. These will be placed in Waterworks Park in Holly. Plants she pointed out included virgin's bower, turtlehead, smartweed, button bush, cardinal flower, nightshade - and poison ivy.

The poison ivy had wound itself around some trees where we left the kayaks to go around a beaver dam. We took turns using a paddle to balance as we walked along the surprisingly sturdy dam, avoiding the poison ivy vine.

Susan said people are allowed to clear a notch in a beaver dam so canoes and kayaks can pass through. The notch can't be so large that it disrupts the beavers. Beavers often build right over the notch again in two or three days, or even the next day.

Beaver dams can cause flooding and change the course of a river, she said. She pointed out an area where the river's course had moved by 100 feet because of a dam.

In the area frequented by beavers, we saw floating twigs and tree trunks where the animals had stripped the bark off to eat it. They also made "slides" where they enter and leave the river at its edge.

We saw a beaver at one point, swimming across the water in front of us. We knew it was a beaver because of its size. Susan also said muskrats swim more smoothly. When I developed my film from the trip, I could see the animal's large tail.

Our trip took us through woods, marshes, Haddon Lake and the Fenton Millpond. We heard deer moving in the woods, and a couple of spiders hitched a ride in the kayak I was using. The spiders joined me after I floated into tree branches at the edge of the river. Kayaking is not, for the record, as easy as it looks, but it is a lot of fun.

The important thing to do when the kayak floats into overhanging tree branches is not to panic and unbalance it. Kayaks are very stable when you are sitting in the middle of them. Pushing off from a tree, or using the paddle, will take the kayaker away from the edge again.

We went through some culverts and under a bridge or two. The kayaks got stuck every now and then on a sandbar or a rock, or even a large tree branch that had fallen in the river.

I really appreciated all of the hard work Headwaters Trails, Inc. members and other volunteers did to clear a path through the river after the Aug. 24 tornado. Susan took photos as we floated along of more projects that needed attention.

There was a large tire discarded in one area, piles of debris from fallen trees and a rock in a bad place at the other side of a culvert. Susan said moving a large rock is relatively easy, when using the motion of the river to carry it along. Unfortunately, the motion of the river can move rocks back where people don't want them.

We saw an area where the emerald ash borer had turned a leafy canopy into a bunch of barren, dead tree trunks. The dead ash trees were still standing after the tornado because they didn't have leaves to catch in the wind. A lot of healthy trees blew over, because of their leaves.

The toughest part of the trip was getting across the beaver dams. With most of them, we were able to push, pull and scoot our way over without leaving the kayaks.

The Shiawassee River where we traveled is pretty shallow. Deeper areas are located where it narrows, Susan said. The river mostly stays the same depth, according to measurements that have been taken.

We startled some large herons that were fishing in the river, watching them fly off with their long legs dangling. A pair of them were roosting in a tree on the edge of the Fenton Millpond. And when we got close to Strom Park, it was like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" when the flock of ducks started flying away.


Having now kayaked, I made these observations:

* Seven miles is a lot longer than it seems.

* Susan is a very patient person.

* Beavers don't seem as cute and unique after you have struggled to make your way over several of their dams.

* Taking photos while kayaking can land you in the tree branches at the edge of the river.

* If you haven't ever kayaked before, you will likely have some sore muscles the next day.

* I am "hooked." Kayaking is really fun and I want to get one so I can go paddling some more.
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