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Posted on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 1:44 p.m.

Ann Arbor picks 'Argo Cascades' as name for $1.17M Huron River kayak feature

By Ryan J. Stanton

The city of Ann Arbor has officially named the new series of drop pools near the Argo Canoe Livery on the Huron River the "Argo Cascades."

More than 500 people took an online survey last week to help the parks department name the new recreation amenity, city officials said.

Crews recently completed reconstruction of the bypass channel around Argo Dam in the old Argo millrace. For the first time since 1830 — when the channel was built to power mills — the small section of river will be free-flowing with the portage removed and transformed into a series of nine drops and pools for people in tubes, rafts, canoes and kayaks to enjoy.


Kayakers already are enjoying the Argo Cascades, which cost the city $1.17 million to construct. The city took on the project in response to state orders to address safety issues with the Argo Dam headrace.

Courtesy of city of Ann Arbor

Other new features will include a wider and paved Border-to-Border trail section and bridges installed at each end of the millrace.

The section of river and trail located just north of downtown Ann Arbor and east of Main Street already is a major recreation destination, but city officials expect it will be even more popular now. has fielded inquiries from as far as Windsor from people interested in checking out the new features.

Additional construction is expected to continue over the next eight weeks, including replacement of the bridge over the entry to the Argo Cascades in early March.

This will include inserting a stop log to prevent the flow of water through the Argo Cascades and will result in its closure until about mid-April, city officials said.

Pedestrians will not have access to the area at that time and will be asked to use an alternate route until the new bridge is installed and the path has reopened, city officials said. Detour signs will be installed on site to help direct people around the area.

After installation of the new bridge, city officials said the stop log will be removed to allow for water flow through the Argo Cascades again.

The city will complete final adjustments to water flow through the Argo Cascades at that time, followed by asphalt paving of the Border-to-Border trail.

City officials said further updates will follow in the coming week, including information about a grand opening celebration.

Mayor John Hieftje said recently there is talk about transforming the old MichCon site on the south side of the Huron River near the new amenity into a riverfront park. He said that could happen as soon as DTE Energy is finished with environmental cleanup work in the area.

Two whitewater features in the Huron River, just downstream from the Argo Cascades, are expected to come later this year. DTE has agreed to pay for them since the area is adjacent to DTE's property along the river and the company has to do remediation work there anyway.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Wed, Mar 21, 2012 : 5:17 p.m.

@waterrat: Re: "tricked." Lots of "ifs" here, we still don't know the facts, but if the public had known that the whitewater was not going to be constructed (although we're not 100% sure on that), there would have been a lot more resistance to the dam repair. There was a lot of support for taking it out, and the whitewater was the bone they threw to us paddlers that helped tip the scales in favor of this inferior solution. Sure, they said that the dam could always be removed later, this project didn't affect that. Yeah, right! As if we'll ever get them to take it out after throwing several million into this project! So if it turns out that the whitewater doesn't get built, yeah, we were tricked. (Don't know if you'll ever read this -- this is an OLD thread!)


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Ryan, Regarding the proposed whitewater improvements, my understanding is that the state is hesitant to allow man-made features for recreation - outside of fishing. But fishing is also a human activity. Additionally, many of the features built in whitewater improvements are also beneficial to fish habitat. Hopefully, DTE and it's consultants are working hard to deliver this message. If they are not, then shame on them. Anyone living in this state has to realize the importance of the fishing economy, which is what any state objection would center around when you cut to the chase.


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

@David Cahill:   re: "I love the name "Argo Cascades". Hey, I'd be ecstatic with the name, too, if it actually meant something! That's what names are supposed to do -- mean something, convey information, describe something, etc! The name "Argo Cascades" does none of these things. This reminds me of the time I ordered "French Toast Flambé" off of the menu of a rural, roadside cafe. When the waitress delivered a plate of plain old french toast, I called her back and asked her to deliver on the "Flambé" part. I was astounded when she replied, "Oh, that's just what we call it." That sums up the situation here -- there are no "Cascades," just a PR campaign. And, just as I was tricked, 30 years ago, into paying for something that I did not receive, it appears that now I, and a heck of a lot of others, have been tricked into agreeing to something we never would have agreed to -- that is, to leave the dam in place, in return for their naming the New Canoe Canal, "Argo Cascades". Might as well have called it "French Toast Flambé," in my book.


Mon, Mar 19, 2012 : 1:42 p.m.

Who tricked you? It should have been very clear in public meetings that the dam wasn't coming out; in fact, this was covered at the time that the City chose from the various engineering approaches to fixing the headrace embankment. It was covered in a well-attended public meeting and the following day by the news.

David Cahill

Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 6:44 p.m.

I love the name "Argo Cascades". I voted for that name in the survey, and am glad that the City agreed with me. 8-) Yes, who can forget the failed Huron River Watershed Council propaganda campaign for dam removal that began with the infamous "Argo Dam is failing" article?


Sun, Mar 4, 2012 : 3:25 p.m.

On a nice warm, sunny, summer day,( with everyone out in full force) its gonna be like bumper cars. Be sure you wear your flotation devise.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 3:35 a.m.

@hsmp - For the record, I'm a bit disappointed myself. Though I guess I really didn't expect any serious whitewater or rapids, I was at least hoping for a few waves suitable for playing in, or some areas with longer steady drops instead of a series of short kiddie slides (yes, the playground at Java Jungle contains adventures more bold than "Argo Cascades"). On the other hand, I don't feel surprised either, and I will admit it's at least better than the stagnant ditch that was there before. What really gets me is the talk I've heard of trying to tame it down even further, if you can believe that. As said earlier, they've already dropped the flow from where they started, which I don't personally feel made it any easier, but just makes you scrape bottom now. Granted, most of the boats on the river probably do come from the Argo Livery, and most of those people have probably never held a paddle in their lives. Still, if someone's going to tip on these little drops, I think they'd be just as likely to tip in the river on the other side of the berm anyway. If you can't line up for a chute, you're just as likely to get caught on a log or a rock anywhere in the river. I think it would have been much wiser to set up a portage right next to the dam as an option to skip the headrace, then make the "rapids" a bit more attractive to those looking for a more exciting run. Then drop the planned "whitewater features" in the main section and leave that route as the easy choice. This would allow for a choice between hard and easy, casual vs adventure, which seems like it would have been much more sensible and perhaps attract a much wider spectrum of paddlers.


Sat, Mar 3, 2012 : 12:44 a.m.

So, after reading through this thread, I come away thinking that my initial worries were justified: * The promised Real whitewater feature is one of the main arguments the City used to sell the idea of NOT taking out the dam. * The DNR has expressed concerns about building the REAL whitewater feature in the stretch below Argo, so it is not at all clear that it will ever be built. * The City has put a fair amount of energy into allowing people to believe that this novice bypass around the Argo Dam is a "kayak feature," or a "whitewater feature." They even go so far as to name it "Argo Cascades." And several of the posters in this thread (including AANative, Hexagenia, and even, to a certain degree, amlive) seem to buy, and perpetuate, that myth. If enough people end up believing that what Chip Reed more aptly calls the "New Canoe Canal" is really a "whitewater feature," then those of us who pressed for the removal of the dam will have truly been scammed.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

I agree with comments that it's too boring for advanced paddlers and risky for absolute beginners, but there is some merit in it's appeal to intermediates. For advanced paddlers, at the very least you can be thankful that it eliminates the need to portage. For beginners, all you really have to do is line up and let it pull you through. Beyond this I'd say there are maybe two drops in the whole run that could be remotely risky. One I believe is the third which has a heavy wave hitting from the right at the bottom, which can overtake the gunwales on a low sided or heavy loaded canoe. The other I think is the seventh, which is so shallow that even a wide shallow boat seems to scrape bottom, and if you're in a canoe with little/no rocker you can get propped up and tipsy on your keel line - this run should really be a bit deeper in the center. Other than that, just as long as you come at them fairly straight they will just carry you right through. The good part for beginners is that all the ponds are quite shallow - 3 to 4 feet at their deepest. If you do go over, you end up in a nice still and shallow pool to get your things back together. My understanding is also that the livery is investing in some sit-on-top kayaks to rent to beginners, which are really much easier for them to keep upright or to recover when they tip. Overall I think the biggest risk here will be waterlogged cell phones. I do wish however, that they would allow for a portage at the dam for through-paddlers not equipped for or interested in running the headrace. A simple path next to the dam would be all that's needed, and maybe a pullout point to get around the two drops on the river whenever they get done.

Rork Kuick

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 8:39 p.m.

I like that last suggestion. The new simulacra stretch (alliterates!) might get congested. Will there be a kayak in every pool and 2 scantily clads on every outcrop? Or a waiting line as the boaters in pool 3 try to right their overturned boat and collect their gear? We will see, but if so, I can imagine just wanting to go around it. PS on safety: The drop above Zeeb and the last one below Delhi (and rarely, the stretch above Dexter) have an issue where beginners can fill their boats, sometimes with help of big standing wave, sometimes from horse-play, often with ethanol power. Not acting quickly can lead to wrapping the boat, now weighing a ton and pretty non-responsive, around a bridge piling. Avoid this. Failing that, try to be out of the boat as it is being crushed.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

@Hexagenia Well, at least we can agree that they should have just taken out the dam. But if you had read my earlier posts, and that of my friend Stan, you'd realize that the "Cascades" were built especially for the novice paddlers, and that, as yet, there are no "whitewater features."


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 6:20 p.m.

In that case, they really screwed up. Novice paddlers can barely go straight in the main channel, let alone hit these chutes at the right angle to prevent spills. In my opinion they are too hard for beginners, and apparently they are too boring for advanced paddlers, so I guess they are only good for the intermediates. It's inevitable that there are going be accidents here this summer.

Bob Krzewinski

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

Just did a little &quot;inspection&quot; bike ride of the new Argo dam millrace section of the Border To Border Trail. While not fully paved yet (that will happen once it warms up a little more), this section of the old mill race is a 1000% improvement over the old narrow dirt path, with the new path being at least 8 feet wide. This section is going to be really nice in the summer. If you want to ride this section now, it is open and rideable with a hard-packed gravel-ish base. Bob Krzewinski Friends Of The Border To Border Trail <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

Ann Arbor should keep the main branch as it is, and move the canoe livery below the dam into the Michcon property. That way we will have a way for the novices to paddle around the new cascades, the advanced paddlers get the cascades, and the rowers get their dam. Putting more white water features into the main branch gives beginners no where to go with our current setup. Ann Arbor is asking for some serious accidents and liability if they don't address the situation. Of course I would rather the dam just be taken out but obviously that ship has sailed.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:15 p.m.

A wide variety of park users (not just the rowing club) enjoy Argo pond just the way it is. Personally, I look forward to celebrating the 200 year anniversary of the dam in 2030! (&quot; For the first time since 1830 — when the channel was built to power mills&quot;). The new cascades and whitewater features will draw more paddlers and tubers to this section. The Argo canoe livery parking lot is already overflowing and will not be able to support the additional volume of park users. Therefore the existing Michcon parking area offers a possible longer term parking solution adjacent to this stretch of the river.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

As fifty plus resident of A2 and a long time kayaker, kayak instructor and fisherman, I'm not too impressed with the changes to this area. From a kayakers view point it is almost useless, the drops are not big enough for any real fun and after you've gone down it once,as I have, there's not much point to do it again. The drops are not big enough for surfing. No real waves even in high water. They should have made at least one drop lag Rge enough to play in. Oh well. On the other hand to have to remember that a lot of novice canoe paddlers will be going though this area on their way down the river. Now as a fisherman, the verdict is still out, this used to be a good stretch to fish in but who know now, with the added people on this stretch it could drive the fish away and as there are very few trout on the river that would live here and of course nothing but a canoe, kayak or wading can be done there. Now I will say that it looks good, at bit contrived but that will change with time and tree growth.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

Sorry should of proof read.&quot;they should of made at least one drop big enough to play in&quot;


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

@Hexagenia: I agree that a constructed whitewater race is a poor substitute for a free-flowing river. But the DNR's recommendation to remove the dam was not followed. Given the drop in elevation between Barton and Argo, I'm sure that a lot of lovely, natural whitewater would have been exposed. But the rowers won out.

Stan Hyne

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

Not so bad an idea as dams.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

i agree with this!


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:47 p.m.

I'll never understand why people think nature should be turned into our own personal amusement park. Constructed whitewater on the main branch is just a bad idea.

Silly Sally

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 11:25 a.m.

There goes that silly mayor again, he wants to turn the polluted MichCon parking lot into a park, and a virgin park into a parking lot by the hospital. Instead, keep this lot for the existing train station. Of course, he wants the city to spend millions of our tax dollars, which we do not have to accomplish this. FIX THE ROADS!! &quot;Mayor John Hieftje said recently there is talk about transforming the old MichCon site on the south side of the Huron River near the new amenity into a riverfront park. &quot;

Chip Reed

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

Why not call it the &quot;New Canoe Canal&quot;. It sort of rolls right off the tongue...


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

Yeah Chipster, why not?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 4:27 a.m.

@wake-up-with-al: re: &quot;seems like a lot of money for something that can only be used for a couple of months per year in michigan.&quot; There's not one month of the year that I haven't paddled in. I don't get out on the Huron much in July or August, but Spring and Fall are great, and I live for those years when the thaw of a big icepack/snowfall gives us great whitewater in February/March! I remember a buddy and me taking a break to stretch our legs by paddling our two canoes up onto an ice floe around Zeeb Rd. We got out and walked around for a while, then, when we were just above Delhi, we got back in our boats and let the ice floe go first, before dropping into the rapids to surf and play around, always keeping an eye out for the next upstream floe -- those things can be as big as a school bus!

J Shaker

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

sounds great, and looking forward to checking it out


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:34 a.m.

This looks like a great addition to Ann Arbor. I'm sure many people will enjoy it.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 3:08 a.m.

I haven't been to the area to see the new Argo Cascades, but as a local kayaker, I think it will be great fun! One person made a comment about swimming in the pools. If the pools are small, swimming could be dangerous. Kayakers sit very low in the water, and if the rocks around the pools are too tall the paddlers won't be able to see swimmers. The boats shoot through the rapids pretty quickly. I can hardly wait for truly warm weather!


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 5:36 p.m.

Yeah Wait, that's what I'm thinking about. When you see it, I'm sure you'll agree it will be hard to keep bathers out of it.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.

@Tru2Blu76: Not all of us who wanted to tear down the dam belong to the "the Usual Cantankerous Suspects" club -- there's a lot to be said for free-flowing rivers, especially when the dams that block them are unnecessary. I do understand the wants and desires of the Rowing Crowd, but they are only one small part of the river-loving community. And as for, "this is a real victory," well, we'll see, won't we? So far, all we have is a very-low-volume bypass to avoid the need for portaging. That's fine, but hardly a "real victory." Give me some rapids to play in, and I'll second your cry, but we still have a long way to go.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:24 a.m.

@amlive: Good to hear you think it's still a go! I heard from a Huron River Watershed Council guy that the DNR didn't want to set a precedent for making major changes -- in concrete, no less -- to a Michigan river, and were going to turn the project down. Although I can't confirm that, all of this "Kayak/Cascade" PR hoopla sure sets off my BS detector, so I have my doubts as to whether we'll really get that promised whitewater. And just because the "Argo Cascades" might splash a bit, that doesn't make them anything near whitewater. Here's hoping for the future, though.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 2:13 a.m.

Friends and family who were Ann Arborites but were forced to move for career advancement (still wanting to come back) all supported our efforts to make this renewal of Argo Dam happen. I've just sent this article with photo to them, I'm sure they'll be delighted (that includes the one with two U of M degrees in Ecology and Natural Science). Just remember: the Argo Dam Controversy began when (early in 2009) a member of the Huron River Watershed Council declared Argo Dam to be badly degraded and near ready to collapse - on the pages of the Ann Arbor News. That was quickly refuted following an in-person inspection by one of the engineers who worked for the contractor which built the dam. From there: it was all about complain &amp; criticize from: the Usual Cantankerous Suspects. So this is a real victory for Ann Arborites who possess the facts and the will to improve on what we have: rather than irresponsibly criticizing and throwing away a valuable civic resource. Congratulations to all who urged: Save Argo Dam!

Rork Kuick

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:54 p.m.

Tru2Blu76 is trying to rewrite history, again, and I think it is not out of ignorance. Problems with the former mill race were a contentious issue between the DNRE and Ann Arbor since at least 2004. The current set-up was Ann Arbor's fix to that problem. There was an alternative fix advocated by others, which was to remove the dam, but they did not force a fix of the mill race. DNRE fisheries division has been in favor or removing Argo dam since at least 1995. It was not a new thought. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I and other who want dam removal care deeply about the river. The whole river, and all of it's water. Ann Arbor has chosen an anti-ecological solution for selfish reasons. Pro-dam folks will continue to try to whitewash that.


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

This thing is absolutely cool and will be a magnet for a wide variety of users. The placement of the rocks allows for many areas to sit and enjoy the sound of running water. I can see this place being quite the hotspot in the summer and hopefully swimming will be allowed in the pools! Way to go!


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 10:58 p.m.

@Ryan Stanton: "Two whitewater features in the Huron River, just downstream from the Argo Cascades, are expected to come later this year." What is the latest on this? We were promised "whitewater features," but I have heard rumors that the State won't allow them to be built. Is that true? And will the "additional construction" include any more hydrological work? What has been built so far is merely a pool-drop fish ladder that also allows novice canoeists to avoid having to portage around the dam. Calling it "Argo Cascades," and a "Kayak Feature" makes me worry that the City is substituting a PR campaign for our promised whitewater. As constructed, there is only one "feature" -- a narrow drop connecting two pools of quiet water. This feature was then repeated a half-dozen times without any noticeable variation. At decent water levels, there might be a wave or two to surf in the "Cascades," but that is about it. No intermediate boulders creating eddies to ferry between, etc. On top of all of that, since the "Cascades" uses only a tiny fraction of the full flow of the river, it could never come close to providing a play spot as nice as the Delhi Rapids, or the other two nice play spots within a couple miles of Delhi. So Ryan, can you do some research here, and give us the full story?


Fri, Mar 2, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

I've been following through some friends with the city, and have heard nothing related to any limitations from the state to prevent this. Sounds as though it's a certainty from what I've heard. My understanding is that the city was initially going to include these rapids, but that they would have interfered with the brownfield clean up DTE has to complete. Since it would have cost DTE more to remove then rebuild the rapids, the city chose to let DTE build them after the cleanup. The city saves money on the whitewater construction, and DTE saves money on demolition, plus they get to use it as a PR item to say they funded this public amenity. Win-win. And yes, the feeble 2 foot drops are a bit disappointing if you're looking for anything remotely akin to a whitewater experience, but it's better than what it was. Since there will be no official portage to bypass this run (though I'm sure a path will be unofficially beaten down by the dam), they had to make it a bit more &quot;family friendly&quot;. They've already dropped the flow rate since I first paddled it in early December, and since it's regulated by pond height at the dam it isn't going to change with the river flow. There's even been talk of adding some rubber flappers to the base of the runs to smooth out the flow, but it sounds like they're going to wait until spring to spend more time investigating any further changes. I am hoping that the two drops planned for the river section may provide a bit more exciting play areas, but I guess we'll have to wait until DTE finishes their cleanup before we see what happens.


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 10:41 p.m.

Argo Cascades is a good name choice. I'm very excited about the project. My son and I kayaked the Argo Cascades the first week of January. We were a little nervous as we approached but other than having a little water wash over our laps we found it fun, easy to navigate and far superior to having to portage. I love having a border to border pathway along the river and I will definately take visitors for a; float, paddle or walk to see this new river side improvement. You can see the project proposal at the site noted below; <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> I'm wondering if this spring's work will include tree plantings? The area looks very man made as it is.


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

I tried to get Ypsilanti to do this with the Paper Mill dam I was laughed at. But the Huron river steeper and has more water going through it after that dam. Also it is a food 3 miles to Ford lake in the spring they could have class 3 rapids under the railroad and Forest Street bridges.

Randy Parrish

Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 9:51 p.m.

Ah....everyones a critic

Tom Kraft

Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

The picture should be credited to Dave Barbor, a northside resident and wonderful photographer. This was taken on December 26 2011. We were trying out our new christmas kayaks. This new recreation area is going to become one of the citys best places to play. Tom Kraft


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

If it has water, shouldn't it be classified as &quot;Art&quot;?


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

The most pretentious of the proposed choices. . . that figures.


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

A missed opportunity to name it the Agro Crag......

Rork Kuick

Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 7:24 p.m.

&quot;free-flowing&quot; - not really, unless you just fail to notice the dam that makes this possible. Is the water going through the Barton dam free-flowing in this new language?


Thu, Mar 1, 2012 : 8:03 p.m.

I believe it is free-flowing. if I re-read the article, the head-race and portage is no more. It's small &quot;waterfalls&quot; instead and is free flowing. (the head-race area is still there but is it still really a head-race?? )