The canoe has a very long and ancient history in North America, especially in the Great Lakes Region where it was relied upon by Native Americans as an important means of transportation and survival. When the first European explorers arrived, they quickly adopted the canoe as well because it was a unique watercraft that maintained a shallow draft and was fully capable of carrying a load and navigating a diverse mixture of streams, rivers and lakes, and light enough to be portaged on land around obstacles. The canoe would play a major role in the early development of this country, including for trade and commerce. The well-known French voyagers are a prime example.
Depending upon the region and local resources the canoe could have a fixed framework covered with bark or animal skins, or be a dugout created from a large tree trunk. What comes to mind most often is the typical birch bark canoe that was actually a lot more durable than you might think, and it could be easily repaired with local natural materials found along the riverbank or lakeshore. I can remember some artists’ depictions of birch bark canoes as having the white side of the birch bark facing outward, but in reality they were constructed with the bark’s dark side outward. The birch bark for canoes was peeled from trees during springtime when the bark was at its thickest state, and was sewn together over a cedar framework using spruce roots, and pine gum was used for caulking. Birch bark canoes actually stayed in use right up to the early 20th century.
The early canoes didn’t feature seats either, as kneeling allowed for more agility and stability during paddling (I’ve found that when I want to do some serious paddling, I instinctively go into a kneeling position with my rear braced at the edge of the seat, which allows me to lean forward and put more constructive energy into my paddle-strokes). The wood/canvas canoe would eventually ease the birch bark canoe out, but like the birch bark canoe, it too required occasional repairs when the cloth covering was torn by hitting underwater obstructions (a repair kit was mandatory item to have on long hauls). The canvas/wood canoe, which required regular upkeep would eventually then become eased out by today’s very durable and weather resistant aluminum, fiberglass and Kevlar (various plastics) canoes.
My first canoeing experience began as a kid on the Cass River more than 50 years ago using a wood/canvas canoe owned by some friends. I became immediately smitten with canoeing and have been doing it ever since. Although I have canoed multiple rivers all over Michigan, the Thumb’s Cass River has remained my favorite. No doubt my having grown up and still living in close proximity to the Cass River helps with my affection due to this ready access that is close to home. Just the same, canoeing the Cass River is not a boring pastime as it has its share of challenges including fast water and rapids, and plenty of scenery, including wildlife.
To start, there is nothing difficult about learning how to canoe and it is a great pastime for the whole family. There are some special paddle strokes, such as the “J-stroke” that more easily turn the canoe, but usually a pair of folks can quite quickly pick up the technique of working a canoe together as a team. The person sitting in the stern has the most control as far as direction and thus is captain. The person in the bow has the best vantage point for seeing things such as rocks ahead and is thus the navigator. Personally I have no preference or problem sitting in either position.
Being a farm kid, I never had much of an opportunity back then to be a Cub Scout or Boy Scout, but when I got into high school I was fortunate to become an Explorer Scout (Troop 2974 of Cass City), which was strong into doing outdoors related activities. A key springtime activity was canoeing down the Cass River with our canoes loaded with camping gear, and our goal for a two-day paddle was to reach at least Vassar, and if conditions (such as weather) allowed, go all the way to Frankenmuth (yes folks, unless you are an Olympic-type paddler, it takes at least two days to canoe from Cass City to Frankenmuth – the Cass River features bountiful twists and turns as it winds through the Thumb).
I will always remember my first canoe trip with fellow Explorer Scouts, as it was a true adventure. I was in the stern and Bill Perlaki Jr was my bowman and we made a great team. Needless to say we all had important items such as sleeping bags and spare clothes in waterproof containers because that first stretch entailed its share of rapids and unexpected obstacles (during this timeframe a lot of elm trees, which lined the riverbank in certain areas, had succumbed to the Dutch Elm Disease and some had toppled into the river). Such made for some interesting navigation, especially if it included rapids in the mix. It was a thrill ride I loved clean to the core of my being, and we all made it through without any mishaps (we had several canoes, each filled with two people and their camping gear).
It seemed like it took no time at all to reach the M-24 Bridge south of Caro, but from there the Caro Dam had slowed the current right down that had been scooting us right along. The river actually took on a still-lake effect during this stretch, which was compounded by a stiff headwind out of the west. For every three strokes with our paddles, the wind seemed to push us back a couple strokes, so it was pretty slow going. We were glad when we reached our overnight camping spot on a bluff not far from the dam, thanks to the landowner who had previously given us permission.
The bluff was covered with large pine trees which sheltered us from the wind and the first thing in order was creating our shelters that entailed using the canoes which were propped up on their sides using the paddles at each end for braces. Plastic tarps that had protected our gear had been lashed to the ground edge of the canoe, and then pulled up and over the angled, upraised edge and stretched out and staked down to create the perfect weatherproof lean-to. Another plastic tarp was used as a ground-cloth which was spread out underneath and all that was required after that was to bring in our gear and spread out our sleeping bags. It didn’t take hardly any time at all to get setup for the night (it is a handy system I still use for canoe-camping).
Not long after we turned in for the night and were snug in our sleeping bags, it began to rain. Listening to the rain drumming on the bottom of the canoe which was leaning over our heads, and the trilling of frogs intermingled with the occasional sounds of waterfowl resting in the river and all of it combined with a pine-scented air, well folks, I slept like a log.
The rain would stick with us, as the following morning found us portaging our gear and canoes around the Caro Dam (which is now under private ownership, but wasn’t back then) and continuing our journey downstream. Due the rain being driven into us by a strong headwind, our journey came to a halt at Vassar and we all agreed it had been a great, and in my case, still unforgettable adventure.
Thanks to an outstanding group known as the Cass River Greenway (www.cassriver.org) , a great focus has been placed upon the historical Cass River. This has entailed regular clean-ups (removal of tires, etc – you name it) to establishing canoe/kayak launches. They are presently striving to have the Cass River designated as an official Water Trail, which it truly deserves.
The new Fish Way at Frankenmuth (completed in October 2015) replaced the original Frankenmuth Dam, and it features a convenient canoe/kayak portage trail. On my previous jaunts down the Cass River, Frankenmuth was always my final stop due to the dam and other obstructions, but now I quite literally have clear sailing, so to speak, all the way to Saginaw. I am planning for a fact to canoe from Cass City (which before there was a town, was known as “The Forks of the Cass River”) all the way to Saginaw. Prior to the Civil War, the Cass River provided the only decent access for hunters to venture into the Thumb wilderness from Saginaw to hunt elk, and the particular elk hunting hotspot was “The Forks of the Cass River” (the reason the township there is named “Elkland”).
I have a new one-person canoe and I’m planning on giving the Cass River a full stretch whirl soon. So this story is to be continued.
After more than 50 years of paddling, I’ve found a proper fitting paddle can make or break a canoe trip. People of varying sizes require paddles that closely match their height. If I’m going to be in the canoe’s stern, I want the end of the paddle’s handle to be in line with my nose when I’m standing and the tip of the paddle is touching the ground. If I’m going to be in the bow, the paddle can be a couple inches shorter and be in line with my chin, but generally I use my nose to determine my size choice for a paddle. Also, unless you are in a canoe race and conditioned for it, avoid the wide paddles that are similar in dimension to a scoop shovel, because they will burn your energy up for the effort employed. The standard width gets the job thoroughly done in a far more relaxing manner.
"Reference, Tuscola County Advertiser, subscription number 989-673-3181 or tuscolatoday.com"
Cass River Greenway announces Assistance Grant from the National Park Service for Water Trail Designation Recognition
FRANKENMUTH, MICHIGAN - October 13, 2016 - Today the Cass River Greenway is announcing the approval of an assistance grant from the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) - Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. The National Park Service Assistance Program is a technical assistance program which supports successful partnerships with communities across the country in achieving their conservation and outdoor recreation visions and goals. The National Park Service will facilitate the Cass River Greenway's project planning and help assess feasibility of securing National Water Trail designation.
Barbara Nelson-Jameson, Michigan Program Coordinator for the NPS, stated "I applaud the work that has already been done to develop the Cass River Water Trail and am looking forward to working with the Cass River Greenway partners on an exemplary water trail with opportunities for recreation, education, and conservation that the public can explore and enjoy."
Water trails provide social, economic, conservation, and recreational opportunities. Water trails are recreational routes on waterways with a network of public access points supported by broad-based community partnerships. A successful Cass River Water Trail will boost the value of a community's existing investments in paddling facilities, provide users with significantly richer recreation experiences, promote environmental stewardship, and substantially add to the economic viability of river communities. The Cass River runs through Saginaw, Tuscola, Sanilac and Huron counties. The Cass River Water Trail project brings individuals, organizations, and communities together into one cohesive coalition to plan and implement a nationally designated water trail. National Park Service water trail designation demonstrates achievement in implementation of best practices in the design and management of the water trail, and offers significant promotional opportunities for our regio n.
About Cass River Greenway
Cass River Greenway is an effort by a group of local volunteers, assisted by professional resources and municipal leaders, working to enhance recreational opportunities and the environmental well-being of the Cass River Corridor with a focus on three goals - to improve: recreation, habitat and water quality. Learn more at www.cassriver.org<http://www.cassriver.org>
For more information contact:
Brian Chapman ph. 989-823-8517 firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Zehnder ph. 989-652-9941 email@example.com
Jamie Furbush ph. 989-652-6106 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheila Stamiris ph. 989-652 9901 email@example.com
Michigan’s Wood Canoe Club again joined the 5th annual paddle and swim event. The 2-hour paddle excursion originates at Tuscola’s new canoe launch and finishes at Frankenmuth’s Heritage park. This program originally began to recognize the much improved water quality of Michigan’s Cass River. Since that time other reasons have emerged. Get people on the water! Enjoy our natural resource in our “backyards”, learning paddling/swimming techniques, experience nature, etc.
Quasi founders the Bavarian Inn’s Lori Payne and Bill Zehnder began this a local event and expanded to include their motto “any one and every one, paddle or swim”. Each year Michigan’s wood canoe club has participated yet wanted to further endorse the use of the river by co-sponsoring the event.
We quickly recognized the numerous groups that gathered for this fun outdoorsy experience. Noticed were: The boy scouts and their leaders with the many canoes they supplied, *Riley’s “Runyakers”, eleven swimmers, Wood canoe club, and the numerous families that paddled together. For example, the McDowell’s of Davison MI. This would be six sisters and their Mom. Of the sisters making the entire paddle with Mom Tracey included Noel, Haley, Sidney and Cassidy.
And of course the many families and friends that paddled together or as singles, doubles, etc. The day was beautiful with sunshine and temps in the lower 70’s accompanied by a slight breeze. Wild life sightings reported were: Two American Bald Eagles, a fawn, marsh rabbits, many turtles and 1 Jackalope (oh really?).
*Note: The 15 “Runyakers” ran 5.3 miles from heritage park to the village of Tuscola, boarded their kayaks and paddled back to Frankenmuth, led by the world’s longest runyaker Riley McLincha (Flint MI to Niagara Falls). They chose to celebrate National Runyaking Day at our 5th annual paddle and swim.
The MI wood canoe club (wcha.org) co-sponsored the event and furnished food and beverages. A Bratwurst and a soda pop to every person finishing at the Heritage Park Canoe launch. The final count was a total of 71 participants. Frankenmuth Jaycees furnished the intense labor force staffing the brat stand including Sarah Mahoney, Luke McClure and Kieshan Counts.
The wood canoe club featured 11 wood canoes and kayaks on display in Heritage Park where the event’s social took place. Many of those canoes participated in the 5-mile paddle event. These beauties consisted of canoes as old as 111 years (1905) to newer ones built recently (2014).
Thanks of course to the many that volunteered and staffed the pontoon boats assisting swimmers and paddlers as needed throughout the 5-mile route. In appreciation- Wood canoe club volunteers Laurie and Seth Vukonich, Dave & Roxie Wermuth, Jan & Steve Szymanski, Janette and Bill Hart.
By Tom Lounsbury
Tuesday, October 27, 2015 was a very important day for a lot of folks. It was Ribbon Cutting day for the Frankenmuth Fish Passage Project. Daring young folks from the Frankenmuth Community Youth Advisory Committee had literally stretched a wide blue ribbon across the river, and had a big pair of ceremonial scissors ready to do the job. The countdown was Frankenmuth style, in German, and that worked for me!
I have very strong ties to the Cass River and anything that affects its future is extremely important me, because it is nearly in my backyard, and has been for most of my life (and I owe it deeply for some great childhood memories). I’ve gotten the impression over the years, that as most Michigan rivers go, the Cass River has often been considered a bit of a “Rodney Dangerfield” (unjustifiably referred to with no respect) in the eyes of many, but for those of us who know it well, the Cass River offers a lot and it has the obvious potential to provide plenty more.
An organization that realizes this is the Cass River Greenway and since their beginning not that many years ago, they have made great strides in not only in putting a spotlight on the value of the river, but also in improving and promoting its quality both environmentally and recreationally. The group has been very instrumental in developing canoe/kayak launching sites for better accessibility at several locations on the river, and they perform annual “cleanups” on set stretches (this entails bringing out countless tires, all kinds of garbage and even an engine block or two, believe it or not). They also have been working with all the municipalities located along the Cass River towards monitoring better water quality, and to me their impact is quite obvious.
I first met Bob Zeilinger and Joe Toth of the Cass River Greenway a couple of years ago on the banks of the Cass River, right next to the Frankenmuth Dam, and it was then I learned there had been and were still talks in progress about fixing, improving, or completely redoing the dam. The idea that caught my attention was the one that would allow fish to migrate upstream, something that certain fish species haven’t been able to do since the Frankenmuth Dam was first built in 1850.
The Frankenmuth Dam was first constructed of timber (which was readily available close at hand then), and then eventually concrete, and would undergo various repairs over the years. It was discovered along the way that the dam had actually become a part of the river system itself and supported Frankenmuth’s south bank and the Main Street bridge abutments. It also provided the necessary water depth upstream for local and commercial boating as well as maintaining the river profile that we recognize today. There was little doubt at all as to its importance to the City of Frankenmuth, and a whole bunch of folks.
A short term fix on the dam would have cost an estimated $350,000, but short fixes are just that and in no time at all you are looking at having to step in again, and invest more, and then more again. Frankenmuth (very wisely in my opinion) decided to go much farther and create a permanent fix that would improve the recreational aspects of their community (fishing, canoeing, kayaking and boating) and also improve the environment by allowing a readily available passage for a variety of fish species through the area that have been denied wonderful spawning habitat (about 73 miles) for more than 165 years.
The estimated cost of the project was 3.5 million dollars and the City of Frankenmuth knew that it would have to reach out and collaborate with a bunch of folks including various state and federal government agencies to get it all successfully accomplished. What really helped, due to the recognized water quality and environmental importance of the “Frankenmuth Fish Passage Project”, was that the region attracted national funding of approximately $2.4 million and multiple other funding sources would participate as well.
Right in the middle of all this was Sheila Stamiris, Frankenmuth’s Director of the Downtown Authority. It was her goal to get everyone involved to collaborate and make what appeared to be impossible, actually happen. And happen it did, beginning with a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, followed by multiple approvals from agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Agency, MDNR and MDEQ. This was obviously no small undertaking of getting everyone on board to hold hands and make it all possible. But all did so for the better good.
The Frankenmuth Fish Project is unique in that it follows a bend in the river and required a tremendous amount of limestone rocks and literal boulders to be trucked in from quarries in Alpena and Bay Port. It is truthfully an amazing sight on completion to behold.
In reality it is no “fish ladder” most folks might automatically assume it is for jumping fish species like salmon and trout. Warm water fish species such as walleyes (a key species for this effort) do not do any jumping, they just swim into the current to get to important places, and hopefully those places don’t make it all that difficult either.
The Frankenmuth Fish Passage is technically a “Fishway” that is a stone ramp topped with stone weirs developed for non-jumping fish species. The weirs form 30 ft wide pools and fish can use these for a resting zone, or continue on their way upstream. The real key to these weirs is to disrupt the water current and to slow its’ velocity down at key spots, to allow migrating fish ready access. The Frankenmuth Fish Passage also takes care of upstream water levels as well as protecting the south bank at high water levels. It is a perfect example of what can be accomplished when dedicated folks get together, talk it over and make it all happen.
A bonus to all this is the visible rapids flowing between the weirs and on down the river. Taken into consideration are the kayaks and canoes that will need to continue on downstream, and now there is an easy portage trail that is available. (I’ve canoed down the Cass River several times over the years and from all the upstream branches too, and I have always had to discontinue that journey before, because of the Frankenmuth Dam and its very non-negotiable high banks. Now I can continue on, a “Bucket-List” sort of thing). I want to paddle all the way to Saginaw some day!
I must admit that rapids affair is sort of appealing to me, despite getting long in the tooth. No doubt experienced kayakers are going to give it a whirl, head on. They seem to get all the credit in this fast water environment these days and admittedly and justifiably so, as they are great and very maneuverable watercraft for that challenging atmosphere. But I’m not into kayaks. I’m into canoes, something that the Cass River has witnessed paddling its current for eons, and I know how to wield a paddle in a constructive manner, and have been at it quite awhile.
Yep, I’ll be checking it all over at high water next spring. The Frankenmuth Fish Passage is truly a wonderment!
Over 60 volunteers braved a wet and blustery Saturday morning to conduct a special clean up effort on September 19. The Cass River was especially low due to construction of the Fish Passage project, which required temporarily dropping the water level upstream of the dam.
The Cass River Greenway Committee and the Frankenmuth Parks and Recreation Department teamed up to sponsor this once in a lifetime opportunity to pick up trash from the exposed riverbanks.
Volunteers were divided into five teams and they walked the riverbanks from Tuscola downstream to the Frankenmuth Covered Bridge. Overall the group removed approximately eight cubic yards of trash and another six cubic yards of steel and tires.
With the construction on the Frankenmuth dam/rock ramp and the low water level in the river above the dam, the Cass River Greenway Committee is taking advantage of this opportunity to also clean up the river. The group is planning a special river clean-up on Saturday, September 19 and is looking for volunteers to help.
Volunteers will meet at the Frankenmuth boat launch on Tuscola St. at 8:00am, divide up into groups, and then head out to certain sections of the river. The cleanup is expected to be done by noon. The committee hopes to clean approximately six miles of river from the Frankenmuth dam upstream to Tuscola. Volunteers are needed primarily to walk along the sides of the river to pick up trash, tires, and other debris. Because of the low water levels and the bottom of the river being exposed, it is expected to be very muddy. Volunteers are encouraged to wear old clothes and shoes or hip boots/waders.
Individuals that are interested in helping in this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event are asked to contact Frankenmuth Parks and Recreation at 989-652-3440 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For the last seven years, the Cass River Greenway Committee has held an annual river cleanup in July. During that time, section by section, they have cleaned more than 35 miles of river from Caro to Bridgeport. This special cleanup is being done in addition to those annual cleanups because of the abnormally low water levels.
The Cass River Greenway Committee is a group of local volunteers, assisted by professional resources and municipal leaders, working to enhance recreational opportunities and the environmental well-being of the Cass River corridor. For more information about the group and its activities visit www.CassRiver.org
Many thanks to the Saginaw Bay RC&D for helping spread the word about Cass River Greenway's work! Featuring details on CRG's streambank stabilization efforts in the Cass River, the newsletter article provides many thanks to the project parters and supporters. Read below!
Cass River Greenway is a Michigan conservation organization dedicated to the health and wellness of the beautiful Cass River.