Grand Rapids couple to paddle the Mississippi for clean water

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling a tandem kayak on their journey down the Mississippi River. Photo:  Howard Meyerson

Gary and Linda DeKock will be paddling their tandem kayak on their 10-week journey down the Mississippi River. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Every now and then we get an opportunity to express in life those things we hold dear – a point where we live our ideals. Gary and Linda DeKock are two such people who do that regularly, but on July 19, when they launch their tandem kayak on Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi River, they will be challenged to do that daily.

The Grand Rapids couple plans to paddle 2,291 miles down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. The trip is a fund-raiser for “Water for People (WFP), a Denver Colorado nonprofit that provides safe, clean water to villages in nine third-world countries. The DeKocks hope to raise at least $11,455, using a crowd-sourcing website called Crowdrise. That translates to $5 for each mile paddled.

“The cool thing about Water for People is they work on sustainable solutions,” exclaims 63-year-old Linda DeKock, a self-employed vocational rehabilitation consultant. “First-world people usually go and put in a well – then stand back and say: ‘There! Everyone is happy.’ And five years later the well doesn’t work – and the women are still walking five miles to get water. Water for People tries to go beyond that and have local communities invested in the outcome.

“Gary wanted to do a bike trip from Chicago to New Orleans, but I didn’t want to; I don’t like being on highways. So I said: ‘Why don’t we paddle from Chicago to New Orleans?’ He got a look on his face and said. ‘If we’re going to be on the Mississippi, we should do the whole thing.’” Continue reading

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North Country Trail: Fife Lake loop trail now open

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

Dick Naperala (left) and Dick Tomorsky enjoy a view of the Manistee River from elevated bluff along the a new portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail near Fife Lake. Photo: Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

FIFE LAKE, MI — The cool of early morning clung to the forest landscape and highway sounds carried through the trees, but Marilyn Hoodstraten and Deena Barshney were busy at their tasks, paint brushes in hand. Each was clad in warm clothes and they went about the job of painting a new kiosk for the 4,600 mile North Country National Scenic Trail. Arlen Matson stood by, ready with a map to be installed.

All three are members of the Grand Traverse Hiking Club (GTHC), a chapter of the North Country Trail Association. And this wasn’t just any trailhead sign.

Prominently displayed at the U.S. 131 Roadside Park, immediately north of the Manistee River, it directs hikers onto a newly opened 13-mile reroute located on the east side of the river. More importantly, it offers hikers and backpackers an alternative to the complexities of organizing a point-to-point hike.

The new trail connects in two places with the abandoned segment on the west side of the river, creating a 21-mile loop that allows backpackers to return to their cars – eliminating the need to spot a vehicle at the other end of a hike.

“This is exciting. The loop is perfect for a weekend of backpacking,” said

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Fife Lake Loop: The North Country Trail reroute meets up with what is now the Fife Lake Trail to create a 21-mile loop. Source: North Country Trail Association.

Dick Naperala,a retired school teacher and GTHC member. He is the North Country Trail Association volunteer who conceived of the reroute and loop trail. Naperala bushwhacked 13 miles to establish its route. Then he worked with the Village of Fife Lake to get it to adopt the abandoned route. That segment is now called The Fife Lake Trail. It took two to three years and numerous meetings with village leaders, the Michigan DNR and Department of Transportation.

Camping is allowed on state lands all along the route as well as in two rustic campgrounds: the Old U.S. 131 State Forest Campground to the south; and the Spring Lake State Forest Campground to the north, near Fife Lake. The new trail starts out along Manistee River then heads north through the woods along the very scenic Fife Lake Creek, eventually entering lake country where the route passes by Headquarters Lake and Spring Lake.

“This new portion of the North Country Trail is so much more scenic with its overlooks, lakes and fast-moving creeks. The new trail also comes close to the Village of Fife Lake and this has become a win-win for everyone,” Naperala said, adding that Fife Lake Trail will have orange-colored blazes while the new NCT segment will have its traditional blue blazes on trees. Continue reading

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Brookie survey continues in Upper Peninsula

By Howard Meyerson

MARQUETTE, MICH. – Upper Peninsula fisheries managers are collecting data from b6ac3c1202c15e5fdfc0bdbe8d3dfb55five U.P. brook trout streams this season with the intent of adding three of those to the state’s experimental brook trout stream category in 2015. Five streams were designated as experimental in 2012 after months of public debate following a DNR proposal to double the daily creel limit to 10 trout per day all across the Upper Peninsula.

The blanket recommendation proved controversial and was met by opposition from a cross-section of anglers, as well as expressed concerns from academics and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who were working to protect coaster brook trout streams. DNR fisheries biologists said then that computer modeling showed brook trout populations would not be adversely impacted by the proposed change.

The experimental category was established as a compromise. It went into effect in 2013 with a promise that studies would be conducted to determine the impact of increasing the creel limit.

“We’re adding three more streams because it was the NRC’s and public desire to have that from the start,” said Phil Schneeberger, the DNR’s Lake Superior basin coordinator. “We’re gathering information on five candidate streams and will make a decision in fall about which three to add.” Continue reading

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Early season salmon calls for cold water tactics

David Kostecki, from Oakville MO (left) and Stan Kostecki (right),from Defiance MO, work to reel in two salmon as Captain Russ Clark looks on. Photo: Howard Meyerso

David Kostecki, from Oakville MO (left) and Stan Kostecki (right),from Defiance MO, work to reel in two salmon as Captain Russ Clark looks on. Photo: Howard Meyerso

By Howard Meyerson

BENTON HARBOR, MI — The sizzle of running line caught everyone’s attention. Another fish had hooked up and seemed to be running with a lure. It was just nine in the morning and the ice box was filling nicely. Captain Russ Clark, owner of Sea Hawk Fishing Charters had called it well; the anglers aboard Sea Hawk were having a good time.

“The water today is just 48.4 degrees F,” Clark had said earlier, at sunrise while motoring out beyond the St. Joseph pier. He is a 30-year veteran captain who runs his 36-foot Tiara out of Benton Harbor. “That’s 10 degrees colder than last year. Cold water seems to keep the fish in closer and longer down here in the southern part of the lake.”

The day’s fishing strategy was troll relatively close to the Michigan shoreline, in shallow waters from 40 to 80 feet deep. Salmon were in looking for something to eat. And from the time Sea Hawk mate, Don Sader, set the lines, the action was steady – with two and three simultaneous hook ups on multiple occasions.

This cool, sunny day was proving an example of Lake Michigan salmon fishing at its best

Captain Russ Clark steers his boat, Sea Hawk, into prime fishing waters  just after sunrise. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Captain Russ Clark steers his boat, Sea Hawk, into prime fishing waters just after sunrise. Photo: Howard Meyerson

– a welcome early season indication of things to come; the bottom had not dropped out as some reasonably fear.

“The fishing has been sporadic, but overall it’s been very good,” Clark offered. “We’ve had some 30 fish days, but a lot have been 10 or 12 fish days with a lot of salmon and steelhead and lake trout mixed in.” Continue reading

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Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary: America’s one and only

A new sign marks the entrance to the Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary. Photo: Howard Meyerson

A new sign marks the entrance to the Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

WHITE CLOUD, MI — April showers normally bring May flowers, but this year’s weather hardly has been normal. Lingering winter conditions and the late onset of spring delayed the usual early-season blooms at Loda Lake National Wildflower Sanctuary, a delightful destination in the   Huron-Manistee National Forest where 400 species blossom throughout the season.

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Marsh marigolds were in bloom very early in the season. Photo: Howard Meyerson

“Prime time is tough to predict. It is really weather dependent,” explained Pat Ruta McGhan, botanist for the forest’s Baldwin/White Cloud Ranger District. “The earliest flowers come out in early to mid-May in a normal year. The blooms unfold throughout the season. It’s a rippling effect with something new every day. But, this year we are a bit behind.”

Loda Lake is America’s only National Wildflower Sanctuary; a project of  Michigan Garden Clubs, founded 65 years ago. Its quiet surrounds, northwest of White Cloud, are increasingly visited by nature lovers, school groups and wildflower enthusiasts. Continue reading

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Rogue River Expedition Highlights West Michigan’s Natural Beauty and Promotes Water Quality

Paddlers get ready for a spring float on the Rogue River upstream from Rockford. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Paddlers get ready for a spring float on the Rogue River upstream from Rockford. Photo: Howard Meyerson

There is a lot to be said for seeing things first-hand and a group of 100 paddlers will do that in June. That’s when they will explore the upper and lower Rogue River during a two-day float called Rogue River Expedition 2014.

The event is open to the public and should be a lot of fun. Those who paddle will enjoy the Rogue’s scenic natural beauty and learn about water quality issues.

The Rogue expedition grew out of the 2010 Grand River Expedition, an event where hundreds of paddlers explored more than 250 river miles over 12 days. That expedition is held once a decade. Its organizers decided  that the Grand’s  five sub-watersheds should be paddled on alternate years between Grand River Expeditions. The Rogue River is one of those.

I had the good fortune to paddle eight days on the Grand while covering the event for the Grand Rapids Press. What great fun it was –  and what a great group of people. I suspect the Rogue River Expedition will be no less lively  - and no less interesting.

If you’d like to learn more about the Rogue River Expedition, here’s my latest story for Experience GR Blog in Grand Rapids:  Rogue River Expedition Highlights West Michigan’s Natural Beauty and Promotes Water Quality.

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Dress for Immersion: Lessons you don’t learn when buying kayaks, offered at clinics

Children learn  balance during a class for kids at the WMCKA Sea Kayaking Symposium. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Children learn balance during a class for kids at the WMCKA Sea Kayaking Symposium. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

I was thumbing through a paddling catalogue the other night, looking for new wetsuit booties, when it occurred to me that a wetsuit top might also be in order. Lake Michigan is expected to be colder than last year due the huge influx of melt-water this spring along with cooler temperatures.

One maxim I adhere to when out in my sea kayak, is: “Dress for immersion.” I don’t doubt its wisdom. And, I’ll admit, it is one of those things I wrestle with when it gets hot outside. I’d rather dress for the air temperature – maybe in some nice nylon shorts and a quick-dry top.

But, I stick to the rule any time I go out in open water, where executing a self-rescue, or assisted-rescue with the help of a friend, might result in being immersed more than a couple of minutes. Time is not your friend when waters are very cold.

That evening, while browsing, I was reminded of an old friend and colleague; he died from hypothermia many years ago while kayaking offshore near Wilderness State Park on Lake Michigan. Things had gone terribly wrong. He ended up in the water dressed far too lightly. Tragically, he succumbed. Sadly, things might have gone otherwise. His wetsuit was stowed in his kayak. Continue reading

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Tiny flies and trophy brook trout at Brookhaven Lake

Big Lake Nipigon brook trout hit flies down deep. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Big Lake Nipigon brook trout hit flies down deep. Photo: Howard Meyerson

 

By Howard Meyerson

FARWELL, MI — The lure of big brook trout always hooks me. It’s rare I turn down an opportunity to fish them. So, when Jeff Johnson called and invited me to fish at Brookhaven Lake, his private two-acre pond stocked with Canadian Lake Nipigon brook trout, I gladly said ‘yes.’

Brook trout are delightful fish, colorful and often aggressive. I’ve caught them on crawlers, spinners and flies; diminutive and colorful but picky beaver pond brookies, and those that hit like lightning on Upper Peninsula streams.

I looked forward to the day ahead and hoped to redeem myself after getting skunked two years ago. That’s when I first visited Johnson’s property to learn about his project.

Johnson and his son, Michael, acquired Brookhaven Lake in 2010 as means of honoring Johnson’s deceased father, George Johnson, who had left them an inheritance and had long lamented the disappearance of the grayling in Michigan. The once prized stream fish, with its sail-like dorsal fin, disappeared following the ravages of the early 20th century lumber boom, which destroyed much of its habitat. Overfishing also contributed to its demise along with competition from later-introduced European brown trout.

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One of the smaller brookies caught this day. Photo: Howard Meyerson

The Johnsons honor his memory by stocking the pond with grayling each year. They also stocked it with 1,500 brook trout that have since grown and reproduced.

Youth groups, like Boy Scouts and school clubs, can arrange to fish for free and walk the self-guided nature trail on the property where they learn about Michigan’s trout fishing history and conservation.

“Be sure to let it sink. Count to 10, then strip strip strip,” Johnson instructed once we were out fishing from his driftboat. I began with a weighted, leech imitation. Our plan was to fish deep. The bottom was down 20 feet. But the lake surface was occasionally broken by the rise-forms of big, feeding brook trout.

Leeches, it turned out, wasn’t on the menu. Continue reading

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Manipulating Sea Lamprey: Researchers experiment with chemical enticements, repellants

 Sea lamprey researchers measure stream velocity and discharge in the Carp Lake River to determine the appropriate concentration of alarm substance to apply.  Photo: Tom Luhring, Michigan State University.

Sea lamprey researchers measure stream velocity and discharge in the Carp Lake River to determine the appropriate concentration of alarm substance to apply. Photo: Tom Luhring, Michigan State University.

By Howard Meyerson

That researchers are now studying how to chemically manipulate sea lamprey behavior, reminds me of the early DuPont chemical company advertising slogan: “Better Living Through Chemistry.” That old saw came out in 1935. The chemical industry was trying to sell the American public on the benefits of plastic, among other things. Today, we might utter the same as a snarky comment about chemical contamination of our waters.

But, there is a kernel of truth in those words. Chemicals are now used to control sea lamprey. One, widely used in Michigan, is called TFM. It is considered reliable and reasonably effective, but expensive; and researchers are experimenting with other compounds, to see if sea lamprey behavior altered in ways that could eventually eliminate the need for TFM, or reduce its use.

Some of those investigators will be out on Michigan rivers during May and June, conducting large-scale tests. They plan to use lamprey pheromones – chemical

Captive sea lamprey (in a laboratory raceway) respond to the alarm substance added to the water. The alarm substance greatly increases the activity level of the sea lamprey, even causing some sea lamprey to jump out of the water. Photo:  Andrea Miehls, Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Captive sea lamprey (in a laboratory raceway) respond to the alarm substance added to the water. The alarm substance greatly increases the activity level of the sea lamprey, even causing some sea lamprey to jump out of the water. Photo: Andrea Miehls, Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

compounds with odors that are attractive or repugnant to lamprey. They want to know whether the parasitic marine animals can be guided up certain streams and kept out of others – or motivated to avoid one side of a stream while being attracted to the other and into a trap. Various parts of the research have already shown potential in limited field tests.

“We can’t assume that the animal will jump through hoops of fire for us,” says Mike Wagner, assistant professor at Michigan State University School of Fisheries and Wildlife, the lead researcher on the projects. “We (still) have to craft the right way to present it, and determine the correct geographical and seasonal circumstances needed to get the right outcome.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is keen on the research. They are responsible for the sea lamprey trapping program and have long had an interest in how to improve trapping efficiency.”

Wagner’s research is being conducted in partnership with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC). The work is funded by the U.S. EPA, through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in concert with funding from the fishery commission. Continue reading

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Spring fishing in Michigan: High stream flows may affect young trout

Trout fishing season opened statewide April 26, 2014 on many rivers and lakes, but some rivers, like the Muskegon River (shown) have been open all year. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Trout fishing season opened statewide April 26, 2014 on many rivers and lakes, but some rivers, like the Muskegon River (shown) have been open all year. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s trout fishing season opened April 26 on more than 1,400 rivers and streams. Add nearly 200 others open year-round, and by any account, there is a lot of water to explore.

Personally, I am ready. It’s been a long winter. I just need some cooperative weather. It’s hard to beat being out on rivers at this time of year.

But, what of this year with its crazy, cold weather, deep snows and spring flooding? Will the fishing be good? That’s a question state fish managers are waiting to answer.

Several biologists have mentioned the possibility that some trout populations may suffer a setback. Just which, how many, or how severely, is only speculation right now. Late summer surveys will shed light on the question.

But, past studies by Michigan DNR researchers have shown that trout fry, the newly hatched trout, are highly vulnerable to the conditions seen this winter and spring. Continue reading

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