Lake Michigan Water Trail A Mecca for Paddlers


Paddlers  beach on sandy shores while paddling the Lake Michigan Water Trail. Photo courtesy of Dan Plath.

By Howard Meyerson

When Dan Plath and his friends set off in late July to paddle 50 miles along
the southern Lake Michigan shoreline, their journey will be one of adventure
and celebration. Plath — an environmental scientist and president and founder of
the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA), a non-profit with 600
members — wants to demonstrate support for the National Park Service (NPS)
as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The federal agency is facilitating a
multi-state effort to create a paddler’s water trail around the world’s fifth largest lake.

Lake Michigan waters are known to be unpredictable: Strong winds, storms and
waves can force paddlers ashore. But the lake’s southeast shoreline is very hospitable to
paddlers. A large segment was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2011, a part
of America’s National Trail System, which is administered by the NPS and U.S. Forest
Service. Sandy beaches are plentiful, as are well-marked launch and take-out points.
Getting off the water in inclement weather will be no problem, according to Plath.

“Our 75-mile stretch between Chicago and New Buffalo is fully-functional and
well-used,” says Plath. “We have signs at all the public access sites in Indiana. They
show paddlers where they are, the distances between locations, and the history
of the trail and local area.”

Weather permitting, the group will spend three days touring in kayaks, enjoying
Lake Michigan’s blue waters and sandy beaches, while camping among majestic
sand dunes at the 25-mile-long Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Plath and NWIPA volunteers spearheaded much of the water trail development. The group partnered with national lakeshore staff and those at Indiana Dunes State Park. Both offer campsites where paddlers can stop for the night. There are restrooms at access points, and signed and buoyed areas, so paddlers know where to land.

This excerpt is taken from a feature story about the Lake Michigan Water Trail in the newest issue of Lakeland Boating Magazine. Read the entire story on the magazine’s free digital edition and learn more about the 1,600 mile trail for paddlers and what four Lake Michigan states are doing to develop it. Read more: Lake Michigan Water Trail A Mecca for Paddlers 

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Grand Rapids Area Trout Stream a National Conservation Priority

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The Rogue River, a popular area trout stream is getting some love from Trout Unlimited, local partners and area school kids. Photo by Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Anglers, teachers, concerned citizens and school children all are working to improve stream conditions for trout in the Rogue River, a popular Grand Rapids area trout stream that was adopted by Trout Unlimited, the national cold water conservation organization.

“It’s amazing how much we have accomplished and how many volunteers and partners we have,” says Nichol DeMol, TU’s Rogue River Home River Initiative program manager. “Last week we worked with 450 students from Sparta schools on Nash Creek (a tributary of the Rogue). The creek runs through Sparta where we’ve done water monitoring with the kids and planted more than 2,000 native plants.”

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Area students help with stream monitoring efforts by collecting and tallying stream insects that trout eat. Photo by Howard Meyerson

National TU, based in Arlington, VA., selected the Rogue River in 2010 as one of its conservation priorities. The stream suffers from warm, summer water temperatures and sedimentation from construction on its banks. TU’s Home River Initiative seeks to bring attention to significant trout streams across the country. Other projects include the Blackfoot River and South Fork of the Snake River, both in Idaho, the Upper James River in Virginia and New York’s Beaverkill River.

To learn more about what’s being done as part of Trout Unlimited’s work on the Rogue River read this newest post on: Experience GR Blog.

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Plenty of Places to Launch a Boat in Grand Rapids

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An angler readies his boat and gear after launching at John Collins Park on Reeds Lake. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Summer days and boating go hand-in-hand. When temperatures climb and days get longer the urge to hit the water often grows strong. But where can you launch that runabout, sailboat, kayak or rowboat? Fortunately, Grand Rapids area boaters have many public launches to choose from. Most provide lake access where summer revelers can relax. Others provide access to scenic portions of the Grand River.  Finding  them takes just a few computer keystrokes.

“One of the best ways to figure out where you can launch is by using Michigan’s Recreational Boating System (MIRBS),” explains K.C. Fahrni, who administers several Kent County boating access sites for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  “I like to get out a county map, find a lake and then look it up online.”

To learn more about the DNR’s online launch finder, the 1,300 state-managed launch sites around Michigan and more than a dozen in Kent County, take a look at this story on the Experience GR Blog.

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U.S. House measure supports shippers on ballast water dumping

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A plan gaining support in Congress and backed by the cargo shipping industry would establish a nationwide policy for dumping ballast water into U.S. waterways that environmental groups say would open the door to more invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, which have wreaked economic havoc from the Great Lakes to the West Coast. Read more:  House supports shippers on ballast water dumping

Note: This is how Congress does business – adding provisions to a defense spending bill  that exempt ballast water discharges from being regulated by the U.S. EPA, under the Clean Water Act. Pardon me?  

Proponents say they want a single federal regulation. That by itself is not a bad thing. But ask yourself this: Will the anti-regulatory factions in Congress agree to a strict federal guideline – one which prevents zebra mussels, sea lamprey and other invasive species  from coming into the Great Lakes?  I doubt it. They will fight and argue for years with no will to solve the problem while each freighter that comes through will dump its ballast unchallenged.

Have a great holiday weekend.



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Lonnie Kester: A farmer with a vision builds a public trail

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Lonnie Kester bought an abandoned rail corridor and made a public recreation trail. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Lonnie Kester grew up on a Michigan farm and farming is his life. But the 58-year-old family man from Millington – a rural village northeast of Flint – is known for more than his agri-business interests. Though he farms 3,900 acres and sits on the boards of the Tuscola County Farm Bureau and Genesee County Fair, he is as likely to strike up a conversation about rail-trails, his passion.

Kester loves to talk with cyclists on the Southern Links Trailway, the 10.2-mile abandoned Penn Central Railroad corridor he bought and later developed for public use with the help of the Michigan Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources. The rural bike path runs through farm country. Its scenic route is enjoyed by thousands annually. It is part of U.S. Bike Route 20, which extends from Marine City, Michigan to the Oregon coastline, and it is a link in the 774-mile Iron Belle cycling trail, proposed by Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder.

“I never dreamed of making it a trail,” notes Kester, who lives with his wife, Carol, outside of Millington, the trailway’s northern trailhead. “We bought it in 1998 because we needed 1,000 feet to get to another farm we bought. Tessenderlo Kearly, the company that owned it, didn’t want to sell 1,000 feet. They wanted to sell 7.42 miles of it. Fifteen thousand dollars seemed like a good deal.”

Such a good deal

A good deal, indeed, but Kester would invest far more once he committed to developing a public trail. The remaining 2.74 available miles would cost him $110,000 in 2004. Disputes about other parcels would cost more yet. There were legal challenges too and other complications. But, Kester is known to be determined once he sets a goal. He borrowed money, with interest, to clear the financial hurdles and spent more than $500,000 with no guarantee he would see a return.

“When I bought it I didn’t know if I would recoup any of the money,” Kester explains. “I bought it with faith that this corridor would, one way or another, become a trail. I had several offers to sell it off, and I turned them down and those folks got mad, but I didn’t want to break it up. I told everyone here, ‘This is bigger than any of us.’ It’s a wonderful thing. Rich men and poor men are equal on the trail.” Continue reading

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A cold day in May paddling for wooden canoe enthusiasts

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It was a day of rain, sleet and snow. Winds were barreling down from the northwest, but that didn’t keep these intrepid paddlers from gathering as they do this time of year. Michigan chapter members of the Wooden Canoe Heritage … Continue reading

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Awash in Microplastics: Great Lakes Studies Raise Questions


Schooner Inland Seas sails on  Grand Traverse Bay as students study microplastics in the Great Lakes. Photo courtesy of ISEA.

By Howard Meyerson

When the schooner Inland Seas slips her berth at Suttons Bay on June 24, her captain, crew and passengers will share in a voyage of discovery—a two-hour educational journey under sail to learn about microplastics, an emerging environmental problem that ills the Great Lakes.

The two-year-old program, called “Exploring Microplastics,” is offered by the Inland Seas Education Association (ISEA), a nonprofit that teaches Great Lakes science aboard the 61-foot schooner. Its passengers will examine what crew members find while conducting a fine-mesh trawl for plankton. They will learn how tiny plastic particles enter the food chain and a lot more about how microplastics foul Great Lakes waters.

Jeanie Williams, ISEA’s lead scientist and education specialist, says plastic pollution is common in Lake Michigan. She and the ship’s crew have drawn numerous water samples off popular ports such as Charlevoix, Petoskey, Escanaba, Harbor Springs and Suttons Bay.

“We find plastic in all of our samples,” Williams notes. “Mostly we find fragments, but we find film (plastic bag pieces) and fibers.” Continue reading

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Birdwatching Hotspots in Grand Rapids Michigan


Jan Lewis likes to photograph birds at Reeds Lake. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

By Howard Meyerson

Once spring arrives and northerly bird migrations begin, Jan Lewis will grab her camera and head out to Reeds Lake. With its marshes, boardwalks and tree-lined shores, the East Grand Rapids resident and prize-winning bird photographer finds it is one of the city’s best birdwatching destinations. And she’s not alone.

Birders have observed more than 200 species there, according to eBird, the online observation site launched in 2002 by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The website draws birders from across the U.S. who record their sightings and learn what else is being seen. Reed’s Lake is the No.1 Kent County Hotspot and 84 species have been reported there so far this year.

To learn more about birdwatching in the area: when is best,  the most productive sites and what can be seen, check out this story on Experience GR Blog. Read more: Birdwatching Hotspots.


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Protecting wildlife in Detroit’s urban core

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Manager Dr. John Hartig discusses conservation careers with students from Carlson High School. Photo by Tina ShawUSFWS.

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge Manager, Dr. John Hartig, discusses conservation careers with students from Carlson High School. Photo by Tina Shaw, USFWS.

By Howard Meyerson

Toiling daily in the urban industrial zone adjacent to the Detroit River, John Hartig’s work is never finished. There are wetlands to restore and invasive plants to control, remnant pollution issues to resolve, and fish and bird species to protect.

Hartig helped create a federal conservation program in Detroit to protect important habitat in its urban core. He manages the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a joint-venture with Canada established by the U.S. Congress in 2001. It is the only international wildlife refuge in North America.

“The Detroit River was one of the most polluted rivers in the U.S. back in the 1960s and ’70s,” notes Hartig, author of “Bringing Conservation to Cities,” published in 2014 by Ecovision World Monograph Series. “Most (people) thought of it as a working river that supported commerce and transportation. We thought if we could give it this designation that we could do something special for it.”

Developing the wildlife refuge program was no small job. It encompasses 5, 834 acres of islands, coastal marshes and waterfront parks spread out along 48 miles of river in Michigan and Canada. It is jointly managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service and is part of the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System that protects 150 million acres of land and water across the nation.

Continue reading

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2016 Fishing Season: Grand Rapids Waters Offer Plenty of Opportunity

Anglers enjoy the spring steelhead run on the Grand River. Photo by Howard Meyerson

Spring fishing. What’s not to like? The air is clear and cool and birds are often singing. Fish are hungry and readily take bait, lures and flies. It’s a time brimming with excitement for Grand Rapids anglers no matter whether they fish from a boat, sit on the bank, or wade in the shallows.

The 2016 fishing season begins April 1 and new fishing licenses are needed. If you’re interested in where to catch big fish in Kent County, or where to find Family Friendly fishing waters, be sure to check out my latest post on Experience GR Blog.

Read more:  2016 Fishing Season: Grand Rapids Waters Offer Plenty of Opportunity

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