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Posted on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Improved Superior Dam portage on Huron River makes it easier to kayak from Ann Arbor to Ypsi

By Ryan J. Stanton


The newly redesigned portage at Ann Arbor's Superior Dam on the Huron River.

Jeffrey Smith |

Time to dust off that kayak.

It's a lot easier to paddle from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti now thanks to a newly improved Superior Dam portage on the Huron River.

Members of the local RiverUp! initiative celebrated the recent improvements on Monday at the site of the dam.

The dam, originally constructed in 1919, is located in Superior Township, just east of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. It's one of four dams owned by the city of Ann Arbor, acquired in the 1960s from DTE Energy, and it generates hydroelectricity.


A newly installed sign at the Superior Dam portage.

Jeffrey Smith |

The recent project, which cost $33,000, entailed putting in a new dock at the top of the portage, as well as signage and a new wood-chipped path over the dam and through the woods — leading to a safe spot to launch a canoe or kayak to continue paddling east.

Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, said the project was made possible thanks to donations by John Carver and Tom Buhr. Both are members of the Wolfpack of the Great Lakes Office of the National Wildlife Federation.

"This was one of the first projects we identified as part of RiverUp! about a year ago," she said, noting the old portage wasn't marked or maintained very well.

"It was a lot of bushwhacking if you wanted to portage around the dam, and RiverUp! is about opening up the river and improving access," she said.

The RiverUp! initiative is an answer to U.S. Rep. John Dingell's call for a substantive plan for the Huron River's future. The Watershed Council, along with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and National Wildlife Federation, have worked with community and business leaders on a strategy to revitalize the river as a destination for residents and tourists.

Rubin said the old Superior Dam portage was about a half mile long and was difficult for novice paddlers, but now it's a straighter and more gradual path about half its previous length.

"A year ago, I wouldn't have sent somebody down that stretch from Dixboro to Ypsilanti," Rubin said of paddling east from Ann Arbor.

But now she would.

Carver, an Ann Arbor native, is the former co-owner of Good Time Charley's and the Second Chance night club, which operated from 1974 to 1984 where Necto exists today in downtown Ann Arbor. He spoke with about the recent improvements on Monday.

"We hope they inspire more of the same essentially," he said. "There's quite a few portages and camp sites and trails that need improvement, so we're hoping maybe some private people help move these projects along and make the river more appealing to the community."

As part of the RiverUp! initiative, the Watershed Council is facilitating an effort to develop a Huron River Water Trail spanning the entire navigable portion of the river, aimed at connecting communities in Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw and Wayne counties to the river.

Rubin said more work is needed elsewhere and RiverUp! needs support from community and business leaders, local governments, recreational enthusiasts and the general public.

Carver said he's excited about "a lot of cool things happening" along the river, including recent improvements near Argo Dam and DTE Energy's plans to clean up of the MichCon site. He noted there also are talks of public art along the river, and better lighting.

"For a long time, Ann Arbor has turned its back on the river and we're just trying to bring it back into view," he said. "When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time down by the Huron River, so I certainly love the river. My heart's really with the river."

View Superior Dam in a larger map

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, Jun 27, 2012 : 10:12 p.m.

@ jns131: So tubing "sounds like a dud" to you, too dull. But you refuse to "do kayaks, canoes, or boats." Sounds like the Huron River is not for you, then. Try Disney World.


Wed, Jun 27, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

@ Chip Reed, re: "... many gallons of water will enter your craft, disirregardless of skill level." I paddle a solo canoe, so no spray skirt. And I've successfully paddled whitewater rivers with literally a hundred times the cfs of that little bypass. But then, I know what I'm doing out there. Come by the Delhi Rapids during spring flood some time, and see how it's done.


Wed, Jun 27, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

@ treetowncartel: Yeah, it was Chances Are for a while, but then another (Chicago?) Chances Are sued them. Thus Second Chance. A lot of good acts came through there. IIRC, I saw Emmylou Harris there, among others. A friend did some backstage work there, and, as a joke, made a big deal of sniffing Emmylou's guitar strap to get a laugh from his friends. Of course she came around the corner just then. Ouch!


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 6:48 p.m.

Second Chance, I've heard nothing but good things about that old haunt. Wasn't it Chances Are for a while though?


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:34 p.m.

What about this tubing thing I keep hearing about? No information about it on line except the kayak. I don't do kayaks, canoes or boats. Guess I will have to keep asking.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 10:04 p.m.

Sounds dull. Guess I will go to one of those water parks. Sounds much more fun then sitting in an inner tube going down some river. Thanks for the info. Sounds like a dud to me.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

What exactly are you asking? You get a tube, put it in the river, sit on it and float. If you want you can rent one from a livery and they will either drop you off at a starting point, or shuttle you back from your take out point. Not much more to it than that.

Top Cat

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:45 p.m.

They do rent tubes at Argo Park to go down the cascades and then the river. They have temporarily stopped renting them as the water level has dropped and too many of the tubes got punctured on the rocks of the cascades. The stretch of the Huron south of Hudson Mills and through Dexter is great for tubes if you want to purchase your own.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:05 p.m.

Great to hear. Amazing the City/county would not pay for it. Gallup and the surrounding river area, while the best City park in town, has been neglected for years. the playset in the main area is old, small and inadequate, there are no drinking fountains; garbage piles up in the limited number of bins and then flies around the park. The city pays for a dog park at swift run that few go to, when they should set something up at Gallup. I vote for a pedestrian bridge across the golf course and opening up the river side course to more than just golfers. Make it a nature/walking area and put your dog park there, then connect it to gallup proper with a walking bridge. In the winter make that river side area a skating rink; the warming house is already there. Lots could be done, but for the Golfers using it solely for themselves.

Daid Stachlewitz

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 3:44 p.m.

The caption under the top photo reads: "The newly redesigned portage at Ann Arbor's Superior Dam on the Huron River." Nice info, however this is not in Ann Arbor! Its in YPSILANTI, or to be precise Superior Township. I am tired of the Ypsilanti area being relegated to 2nd tier status buy the 'annarborites;. You are should get your facts straight. This is not the first time an article has been claimed to be in 'AnnArbor' when its something good, but you never claim the outlying areas when its something bad.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 9:53 p.m.

I used to live in that area and Clark rd/ Huron st. Was the border line of Ypsilanti and Superior and that dam is in Superior. However anything east of Superior Rd and South of Geddes is Ypsilanti.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 5:54 p.m.

It's the city of Ann Arbor's dam, on city of Ann Arbor property in Superior Township, as the story points out.

Rork Kuick

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

I applaud. I want local governments to increase public access. The water above Hudson Mills (Portage Lake, Baseline Lake, Whitewood Lakes, Gallagher Lake,Strawberry Lake, Zukey Lake) have so little access it seems criminal. Parking in Dexter near Mast Rd bridge is not good enough now that the cider mill is roped off. The metroparks are good, but they close early enough so that they are not good for evening trips when the days are long. PS: The HRWC had a walk at Huron Meadow on Saturday. Solstice time, Michigan, and having 4 botanists along that are in another league above yours - it doesn't get any better than that.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.

I totally agree. the river is our gem and we pay to spruce up parks in every neighborhood even though no one goes to them. Focus the money on the river I say, let the neighborhood parks be kept up by associations.

Top Cat

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

Bell Road, off of Huron River Drive and north of North Territorial is a dead end and a great place to put into the Huron.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:58 p.m.

Forget the Kayaks! What about the City of Ann Arbor owning Dams and generating Hydroelectricity? Should the city be in the power business? "t's one of four dams owned by the city of Ann Arbor, acquired in the 1960s from DTE Energy, and it generates hydroelectricity."


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

Actually they said in an internet search I did to find out about this, that this area had the most stagnant water ever. Plus this damn was not being used much and was pretty much a dud. So i am glad to hear they got a nice little rapid system going.

Donald Wilson

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Yes, xmo, owning and operating infrastructure is one of the core functions of government.

Top Cat

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

The Geddes Dam is a few miles west of the Superior Dam, near Rt 23.. Would anyone know how easy or how difficult it is to portage the Geddes Dam?


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

It's not difficult. You have to pull out before the caissons, cross old Dixboro, and put back in. It's even easier now since you no longer have to cross Dixboro Road in full traffic (because of the bridge).


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 12:33 p.m.

Great news! I always like to hear about projects like this. It's been a while since I've paddled all the way to Ypsi —I prefer the faster water in the Dexter/Delhi stretches — but I remember some awkward portages. Re the comment on the difficulty of the "Argo Cascades," though, they could only dummy-up this novice bypass so much. At a certain point, it behooves people to get a bit of instruction to learn how to paddle, and then dress and equip themselves sensibly. Although it is hard to get me to wear anything but flip-flops for three seasons of the year, I always wear old athletic shoes at the very least when I'm canoeing. There is way too much broken glass in any river like the Huron. Glasses straps (Croakies, or the like) are another common-sense accessory that I always use.

Chip Reed

Wed, Jun 27, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

nice, eh? feel free to use it whenever...


Wed, Jun 27, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

disirregardless ?

Chip Reed

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 4:46 p.m.

With the river level lower, the last drop is more than twice what the others are. If you have a skirt to keep water out, it's fine. Otherwise, many gallons of water will enter your craft, disirregardless of skill level.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

the stretch of river east of the dixboro dam to the superior one is gorgeous and very natural/ wild in places , (except for the mansions coming down to the shore).....ive rowed it many times and never saw another vessel...this now may change...damn it.

Chip Reed

Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 10:23 a.m.

This is great. Kayakers should be aware the the New Canoe Canal (argo cascades) upstream in Ann Arbor is rather tricky at the end, because of lower river levels in the tailrace. My glasses flew off when I overturned there yesterday, and five other pairs were found before mine were detected on the river bottom.


Tue, Jun 26, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

Thanks for the "heads up." It's a tip to wear elastic holders that stretch around the back of one's head. We have older bands. I hope they still make them. Otherwise, make your own with 1/2 or so elastic.