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Posted on Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 9:03 a.m.

Spring river bridge walks

By Edward Vielmetti

With the coming of spring, it's good to start to think about what the world looks like from the perspective of the water that runs through our neighborhoods. Here are a few good vantage points on bridges and dams in Lower Town, the historic center of Ann Arbor, from which to enjoy the Huron River.

The East Delhi bridge crosses the Huron in the settlement of Delhi, about 6 miles upstream from Ann Arbor. The bridge was closed in 2005 and reopened in 2009 after being repaired. It is now bright orange. Delhi was once a thriving mill town with a railroad station, but it never really recovered after a destructive tornado in June 1917. Delhi is now the site of the Delhi Metropark, a good place to see the river.

The Foster Bridge crosses the Huron at Maple Road. It's a narrow one-lane metal bridge, with a design patented in 1876. The bridge was repaired and brought back to full service in 2003 with an organized effort led by the Citizens for Foster Bridge Conservancy. The bridge was manufactured by the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio, a prolific 19th century metal truss bridge company which produced many bridges in Michigan. At this location the community of Foster grew up around a mill run by Samuel Foster, a miller originally from Massachusetts.

Barton Dam is one the four dams in Ann Arbor. It was designed by engineer Gardner Stewart Williams and architect Emil Lorch and built in 1912-13 as part of the development of hydroelectric power on the Huron by the predecessor of Detroit Edison. The city park by the dam lets you see the water going over it, and is a favorite spot for photographers. The 900 kilowatt generator produces about 4.2 million kilowatt-hours of power each year.

Ann Arbor's Main Street used to cross straight over the Huron to connect to what is now Whitmore Lake Road. On the north side of the river at that location is the Huron Bridge Park, a small park with a bridge that connects to the much larger Bandemer Park that goes along the river. On my field trip with the boys last week to look for railroad trains we saw a Norfolk Southern freight train heading west from the bridge. Note that there is a well worn pedestrian trail across the tracks here, which connects to Huron River Drive. Also note that crossing the tracks is very dangerous and illegal except at marked crossings.

The Argo Dam has a pedestrian crossing over the top of it, from which you can see the rushing water. Get to it from Argo Park on Ann Arbor's north side, or get to it via Lakeshore Drive off North Main Street. The Lakeshore side shows signs of Ann Arbor's industrial past; the faded Economy Baler signs are a reminder of this once-thriving business, incorporated in 1913, which made high capacity baling devices for scrap metal and paper. Argo Dam has been a source of much local controversy as to whether it should be removed to allow the river to run free. From the top of it downstream you can see the site of the former Detroit Edison coal gasification plant, now, a grassy field and one of the most contaminated parts of the river valley.

Walk down the Argo millrace to the Argo substation, a Detroit Edison power station that was once a hydroelectric facility but is now simply an electrical substation. You'll be at the base of the Broadway Bridges, which were completely rebuilt in 2004. This location has been industrialized for a long time; the Argo Mills, a flour mill, burned to the ground there in a spectacular fire in January 1904. You're at the center of Lower Town, the settlement championed by Anson Brown, who in 1832 built the commercial building that now houses the St. Vincent de Paul store. This part of town might have been the center of town, had not Brown perished in a cholera epidemic in 1834.

If you're interested in more walks along the river, you'll enjoy the book Riverwalks Ann Arbor: Walking Loops Along the Huron River. Author Brenda E. Bentley has put together a geological, historical, cultural, and natural history of the river, illustrated with maps, postcards, and photos old and new. All of the walking tours are loops, so you can pick up any one of them at any place and follow it around.

Edward Vielmetti walks along the river for