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Posted on Mon, May 2, 2011 : 5:55 a.m.

Huron River Watershed Council hopes 100-mile water trail will boost river tourism

By Juliana Keeping


Kayakers make their way up the Huron River on a July day in Ann Arbor. The Huron River Watershed Council has plans to unify and organize popular canoeing and kayaking routes along the river into one Water Trail.

File photo | The Ann Arbor News

The Huron River Watershed Council is in the throes of planning a 100-mile Huron River water trail that would start at Proud Lake in Oakland County and end at the mouth of Lake Erie.

Laura Rubin, director of the council, said the trail could help to create a "river renaissance" to boost economic development and river tourism in southeast Michigan.

Heavy industry in Michigan along rivers like the Huron has faded, clearing the water and opening up opportunities for recreation. But access to the water needs work, Rubin said.

“By improving recreational access to the river, we’re hoping it helps spark businesses or liveries, restaurants along the river, and also increases it as a destination in terms of tourism dollars,” Rubin said.

The trail would help guide paddlers to legal, safe river access. It would include signage to clearly indicate the locations of launches and portages. Parking lots with trash cans near launches would help boost access to recreation on the river. And a booklet indicating the length of various trips down the river and the cultural and historical significance of the Huron would help promote the trail.

While there are lots of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing on the river already, there isn't a central effort to promote a longer trail down the river, the council says.

“We still have logistical gaps,” Rubin said. “A lot of portages are difficult. At a portage in Flat Rock, you have to call a company in advance to unlock the gate,” she said.

At a portage, a person carries a watercraft on land to avoid river obstacles or travel between two bodies of water on land. Portages are a key component for recreation on the Huron, the most heavily dammed river in the state.

The council is an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that protects the Huron River, as well as wetlands, flood plains and creeks that flow into it, and seeks to improve pollution and economies in cities along the river.

Plans for a water trail started to take shape last year when the HRWC first gauged the interest of Huron River stakeholders at a July 2010 workshop at the Dexter District Library, Rubin said.

The council narrowed its focus to four interested pilot communities to kick off the water trail project: Milford in western Oakland County; Dexter; Flat Rock in Wayne County; and Ann Arbor. The first three have started to work with the council within the last six months, she said.

Rubin said she plans to give Susan Pollay with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority a call this week to talk about the project for the first time.

The hope is that the trail would be maintained by communities or park systems along the river and volunteer support. The group is looking for businesses to sponsor signs. State departments of natural resources have maintained trails in other states.

The council is still working out the funding and maintenance details, Rubin said. HRWC working groups are studying trail infrastructure, pilot communities and the historical and cultural significance of the river. A formal plan expected in the next few months would help move things along.

After initial planning is complete, a three-year plan would lay out funding sources and dictate next steps. In the meantime, the group is making improvements that would help plans for a water trail wherever it can.

In March, council volunteers cleared the brush at Superior portage near St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

River tourism is a concept that’s catching on across the country, Rubin said, citing the 25-mile Milwaukee Urban Water Trail as an example.

That trail is maintained by river advocacy group Milwaukee Riverkeeper, which promotes paddling on the city's three rivers. Paddlers on that urban trail can float among restaurants and breweries, in natural areas or check out old industrial water sites along the river.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


Tom Lloyd

Mon, May 9, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

Having grown up on the S. shore of Base Line Lake (8 mile thing) I have always enjoyed the chain-of lakes and its ability to provide beauty and relaxation all within the confines of what was once one of the largest metor areas in the US. 4 years ago a neighbor and I made the commitment to kayak the entire length of the river as you had laid it out in your post. Truely one of the neatest things I had ever done! The route transcends everything acquatic that makes up this area and exposed all the diversity of the river. For those doing it, the logistics between moving the boats, parking and river access was a bit teneous but the DNR maps provided a good point of reference and we were able to do it over the course of 7 day trips all done when time permitted. Every bend was an adventure! Putting in at Proud Lake in the early spring and exiting in early October in near Lake Erie made for a very memorable summer and I encourage all interested to make the commitment!


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 6:17 p.m.

Who's up for a full river trip, M-59 to Lake Erie? There's a Huron River Paddlers group on facebook (fairly inactive right now it looks like, but that can change). Probably a good place to set up a 3-4 day group trip for a bunch of strangers on the river. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And a good river map here - (big file download) <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Who's in?


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

Yes, River Tourism does exist and will continue to grow in popularity. There are even some good books that promote eateries and lodging along Michigan rivers. &quot;Weekend Canoeing in Michigan&quot; is such a book that includes the Huron in it's pages.

Linda Diane Feldt

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 5:33 p.m.

Our Huron River is a much underutilized gem. I support all efforts to let people know how to use it safely and with pleasure. I've canoed the whole length, except for Ford Lake. It was an astonishing experience. Fun, challenging, beautiful, and surreal that this experience is in my backyard. The portage at Flat Rock is far worse than is described. It doesn't exist. The maps say you can call for the gate to be opened, but I've not yet known anyone who has done that successfully. And after our bad experience there, I've asked a lot of people. Even the take-out on by the factory is unsafe. With high winds and waves we couldn't find a safe place to land. We ended up in a sympathetic couple's back yard, and even then the only practical solution was for them to drive us around to a safe put-in down stream. It was over a mile to walk it, they said. A couple people have told me the maps are decades out of date, but especially the fiction that you can make an appointment for an easy portage there. I have no idea how to navigate is successfully without trespassing - Arriving at Lake Erie was breathtaking, and remains a peak moment for me. Bald Eagles greeted us, and I had the sense of being an explorer coming upon &quot;The Big Water&quot;. This is an extraordinary resource, and very much still a secret. Thank you for The Huron River Watershed Council, whose work in so many areas will have benefit for generations to come. The Huron is so many things, and has so many faces, the trip is worth every moment.

Alan Goldsmith

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

&quot;Laura Rubin, director of the council, said the trail could help to create a &quot;river renaissance&quot; to boost economic development and river tourism in southeast Michigan.&quot; I think Ms. Rubin said the same thing, about 'boosting tourism' when she and her group were supporting the Giant German Urinal Water Fountain at the new Court-Police Building we taxpayers are funding, so I take most of what she says with a grain of salt.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

Mr. Goldsmith's endless flow of bile is tiresome, and makes him less credible.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 5:48 p.m.

Mr. Goldsmith takes everything with a grain of salt. I expect that his shaker is pretty full of it. Tourism is Big Business in Michigan. The more reasons people have to come here, the better.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:58 p.m.

This is a wonderful project, and I am pleased with the results so far. I am equally pleased to be an alumni member of the fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Michigan whose undergraduate members provided most of the manpower - on a volunteer basis - for the initial cleanup work at the Superior Portage site on March 27th. I hope other groups will join in providing volunteers to continue this good work to open up the Huron River. The person we worked with at the Watershed Council was Elizabeth Riggs who did an excellent job of organizing the initial volunteer project. I encourage volunteers to contact her at Kelley Rea


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

I have kayaked and fished the huron for decades. I consider it my &quot;home&quot; water. It has beauty that rivals many rivers in more rustic settings. While there are many trout snobs in Michigan, there is nothing better than a five pound smally rising to take a hex on a four weight. The Metroparks and State parks protect much of the river with &quot;soft&quot; landings for storm run-off and agricultural run-off. I believe that there are regionally efficient ways to protect the river. Remove dams and the dam maintenance costs( also improving overall water quality). The payment of metropark and state fees by users of the river to maintain &quot;cushion&quot; between urban areas and the river.. Fishing licences for those of us addicted by the fishing bug. I don't want to factor in the intangible benefits because they cannot be quantified but I believe that there are a sufficient number of people in the area that would pay fees to use an urban water trail.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

Why not take up hiking on all of the green belt land we've purchased with our tax dollars?


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Great idea! The county manages some of them: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and I think Legacy Land Conservancy <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy manage some too: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 5:49 p.m.

Hiking trails is a perfect compliment to canoeing and kayaking these beautiful waterways.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

How's this being paid for? Are there really that many people to make something like this economically viable, or is this going to be another Amtrak? It sounds wonderful, but so does me driving a new Corvette. One problem; I can't affrod it and I know that so I drive an older, paid for, vehicle.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

This is the same as building a baseball diamond in a public park. It's creating recreational opportunities for residents. The Watershed Council is not a governmental organization, their work is funded by grants and membership fees. The construction of portages (not large or complicated structures) will probably need to be paid out of the funds of local parks budgets, from cities and counties along the river, if they decide that's a good use of their parks funds. It doesn't take much to make a decent portage around a dam. This isn't Amtrak, this is more like putting some softball diamonds in some public parks.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 5:55 p.m.

I believe that starting a conversation about the viability of such an endeavor as this will also include identifying revenue sources. Your analogy of driving a Corvette falls flat because there is no hope of your driving habits drawing new tourists to the area.

Peter Baker

Mon, May 2, 2011 : 2:06 p.m.

This would fall under the category of &quot;investments&quot; that draw people to the area, as well as making the whole area a better place to live (which is arguably just as big a problem as jobs in Michigan, we need to make people WANT to live here).


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

I saw on brief article on the plan to create a white water piece with the reconstruction of the dam in Ann Arbor, but have seen no further details. Does anyone know more about that? It sounds great.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

Until the A2 city council wises up and removes the Argo Dam, any other improvements to the river basin in and around town (such as the proposed whitewater play area) will never happen. I love the idea of this project though. This is a great river we've got here, just not enough quality access for people to easily enjoy the many other scenic stretches of it outside the bigger towns.


Mon, May 2, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Great! Canoeing on the Huron and Au Sable rivers is one of our favorite summer-fall outdoor activities :O)