Last Saturday represented the final leg of my journey down the Cass River, from Cass City to Saginaw. This would entail 5 scheduled daytrips in order for those who wished could join me on this grand adventure, and a goodly portion of these folks, including some kids, would be with me from start to finish. An example is Bob Walker of Kingston and his 15 year old grandson Hugh Walker of Cass City, who paddled their canoe throughout the entire journey. Professional photographer John Scollon would also be there to film the entire journey. There were also experienced kayakers Russ and Peg Fall of Millington who brought along their grandchildren on many occasions, and also experienced paddler Larry Kolb of Cass City.
I would paddle my own canoe on the first leg, from “The Forks” at Cass City to Caro, but from Caro on I would use kayaks (and a kayak is actually a Type K canoe) provided by Eric Fielbrandt, owner of Frankenmuth Kayak Adventures (firstname.lastname@example.org call 989-652-3400). I learned a long time ago that renting from a reliable canoe/kayak livery saves on the logistics of hauling everything and then putting in and getting out, and Fielbrandt provides quality equipment and services. He even provided transport for those of us who used their personal watercraft.
The Cass River is divided into two parts, the Lower Reaches (which is from Saginaw upstream to the Caro Dam) and the Upper Reaches (which is from the Caro Dam upstream the rest of the way, including both the North Branch and South Branch, which join to become one at Cass City). Thanks to the diligent and dedicated efforts of the Cass River Greenway (CRG), a goodly portion of the Lower Reaches, from Saginaw upstream to M-46 (Enos Park), is now an official water trail. My journey down the Cass River was to commemorate this fact, and to hopefully extend the water trail into the Upper Reaches someday.
Ecotourism has become very important to the economy of Michigan which has countless lakes and waterways, including the Cass River. The Cass River Greenway has developed canoe/kayak launches (some with handicap accessibility) on the official water trail of the Lower Reaches, and this group is more than willing to assist (including obtaining grants for funding) municipalities who recognize the recreational value which the Cass River truly represents. They also perform regular cleanups on sections of the river each summer, and I can state for a fact that their efforts show. I’ve just paddled down a pretty clean river. Their 10thAnnual Cleanup on the Cass River is actually happening in my neck of the woods, near Cass City on August 18th. For more information, go to www.cassriver.org.
My journey from Cass City to Saginaw has taken 26 hours to complete, and I estimate that it would take another 4 hours if I were to include a couple obstacles that I chose to avoid. The first obstacle is the Caro Dam which is privately owned and has a broken floodgate. The second obstacle is a gigantic logjam that is about an hour paddle downstream from Bridgeport, and blocks the entire river. Logjams of this nature can affect the current by intensifying it a bit, and they can suck you in. For this reason, we had selected the Shiawassee Boat Launch on M-13, just south of Saginaw, which is downstream from the logjam. It would be our shortest daytrip and entail about a 3 hour paddle to reach Wickes Park on the Saginaw River.
The weather prediction for last Saturday had a 70% chance for rain, so we were all prepared in that event. However it didn’t rain at all during our paddle, and though the sky was overcast, it was an excellent atmosphere for paddling that was surprisingly bug-free. My group entailed 15 people in 13 colorful kayaks and one canoe, and we had a decent tailwind along with the current. There were a lot of bald eagles soaring above, and eagles as well as ospreys have been our constant companions on the entire trip down the Cass River, which says a lot about the good water quality. The Cass River also has its share of history, and the Treaty of Saginaw which Lewis Cass made with Native Americans on its banks in 1819 was located most likely somewhere along our final leg of the journey (I’d sure like to find exactly where).
I spotted one bald eagle soaring above with a male red-wing blackbird homing in on it and this scene looked similar to small fighter plane coming in to strafe a large bomber. Instead of strafing, the little red-wing actually landed on and clung onto the eagle’s back and started pecking away! This caused the eagle to perform a near barrel roll to shake the little bird loose. Certainly a David and Goliath bit of drama in nature to witness firsthand.
Like all of the Cass River we’ve travelled down on this journey, the final leg was absolutely beautiful with its own distinctly unique habitat features (such as being primarily surrounded by marshland and even having its own special scent in the air) and offering absolute solitude, as we were the only paddlers on the water in a truly wild atmosphere. There were snow-white egrets flushing and flying a short ways before landing again ahead of us, and even a long-bearded wild turkey gobbler on the riverbank seemed to be mesmerized by the wide array of colorful kayaks passing by. Numerous largemouth bass were rolling on the surface and jumping out of the water, and I made a mental note about doing this trip again, most likely real soon, with fishing gear. The bass were obviously on feeding frenzy of some sort.
Only about half of our final leg entailed the Cass River. It is often assumed that the Cass River empties into the Saginaw River which isn’t the case at all. The Cass River has a way of suddenly ending and you run into the Shiawassee River coming in from the south and passing by. When you leave the Cass River, you do a hard right turn (actually it is quite a wide stretch of water where the two rivers connect) and you are then paddling downstream on the Shiawassee River. About a mile downstream, you will encounter another river angling in on your left, which is the Tittabawassee River, and once this joins in, it then becomes the Saginaw River. Not far beyond this point is Wickes Park and it had been a great trip to paddle.
There no doubt was a mutual sense of accomplishment felt by those of us who had paddled the entire journey on the very beautiful and historic Cass River. Good fortune also smiled upon us in regards to the weather last Saturday, because right after we got off the water, we could see the rain coming, which appeared almost like a fast approaching fog, and it came down with a vengeance. Of course we really needed the rain, but I was sure glad our timing had fortuitously worked out.
Canoeing down the Cass River, from “The Forks” at Cass City all the way downstream to meet the Shiawassee River, and then also meet the Tittabawassee River where it all then becomes the Saginaw River, has long been on my bucket list. It has been truly amazing to witness the steady transition of the fauna and flora which is unique to the different stretches as we paddled downstream. It has also been truly wonderful to meet and share the Cass River with a bunch of really great folks.
I will no doubt do this all over again, because this sort of adventure becomes a bit habit forming.