After much delay, here is my trip report from a kayaking a section of the Grand River.
Denis invited me to join him and his friend Jamie on a little kayaking excursion during the third week of July 2009. I knew two things before we left; where we were starting and where we were finishing, theoretically.
You can follow along by viewing my Google map of our trip. Or you can use the map below.
View Trip 6 - Vandercook Lake to Ella Sharp Park in a larger map
Also, the "bird's eye" feature from Microsoft/Bing can be quite helpful. If you find your view of the river obscured by summertime foliage, then change the viewing angle. At least one of the views offered will have been collected after the trees have shed their leaves. None were collected in winter. The two mapping tools used in combination are quite effective. Google Earth is pointless for this particular trip due to the summer foliage.
We started off by dropping my car at the finishing location and boogying over to the public park at Vandercook Lake. The location is marked with a blue marker on the map. The Grand River Environmental Action Team calls this their Trip 6 on the Jackson County portions of the Grand River. Trip 6 is one of the few examples where their labeling is accurate. The parking was good at both the beginning and the end. Access was great at the beginning. Our total trip time was about 3 1/2 hours.
I would only take issue with a couple of the descriptions on their map. Part of having good access is having a good spot to get into or out of your boat. The exit at point at Ella Sharp Park left a bit to be desired in that regard. More on that later. Also, William's Lake does have a few of houses on it. Their description of "undeveloped" is inaccurate and at least 20 years out of date. Fortunately, it does not have wall to wall houses all around it like many of our other area lakes.
The depth of the Grand River as measured much further downstream was about 9 1/2 feet. Another foot or so of water would have reduced the number of times that our kayaks were grinding over things in the water. If the river were any shallower, we would have had to get out and walk at least a couple of times.
We started our trek a little after 6 PM. The park had a few visitors so we just dumped our kayaks in at the swimming beach and took off from there.
Vandercook Lake is big enough to have waves if the wind picks up. I mention that as we had thunderstorms rolling through the area that evening. Aside from one round of rolling thunder, the only trouble the storms caused was some heavy riffling of the water's surface for about ten minutes as we paddled west towards Brown's Lake.
One of the owners of one of the lakeside houses happened to be putting away her kayaking things as we paddled by with dark clouds racing by overhead. Her advice was pretty straightforward; get off the lake before we get toasted. Jamie asked what the chances were of getting hit by lightning. I said they were pretty good if you are on water as you are probably the tallest things around. I am a great confidence builder.
But the clouds passed on by, the sun came out, and we paddled on.
There is a small waterway that connects Vandercook Lake to Brown's Lake. That would be the first green marker on the route. The waterway is only about ten feet wide and is partially covered by a concrete bridge where Brown's Lake Road passes overhead. To add to the navigational issues, one of the homeowners docks a small boat in the uncovered portion of the waterway. As luck would have it, those folks were just loading into their boat as we passed by. It would have been a little extra embarrassing to have accidently nudged their boat with them sitting in it.
So I ran into the sea wall on the other side instead. Better safe than sorry.
The outflow into Brown's Lake was pretty shallow. There are a couple of large stones there as well to add to the challenge. It only took a couple of bumps and a long scrape before we were once again in open water.
This trip was my first time in a kayak. I used to sail as a kid. I have rowed a rowboat. I have also paddled a canoe. While this was a new experience, it wasn't totally foreign. I used to almost live on the water as a kid.
I am in pretty good shape. At least, I am in good shape if round is your idea of a good shape. Pushing a desk all day does have a negative impact on one's physique.
One of the first things I noticed early on was how easy it was to paddle along. There were a few times when I had lagged behind and had to sprint to catch up, but for the most part I was able to maintain a respectable speed without an uncomfortable amount of effort. I could hear the water rushing by when I was digging deep to sprint to my paddle mates.
Now there is a phrase that brings to mind a vision of Kevin Bacon in Animal House.
There is no such thing as easy exercise. But there is such a thing as pleasant exercise. That is how I would describe kayaking.
After traversing the length of Brown's Lake we found ourselves in rapidly shallowing water that feeds into a sandy bottomed stream. We finally had our first opportunity to rest for a bit while the current carried us along. The inlet to the stream is the second green marker on the route.
We had passed a couple of fishermen in a boat on the way out of Brown's Lake. We asked how the fishing was on William's Lake. Apparently the stream was so shallow that neither of the fishermen had ever been down stream to find out.
Can you guess what I have in mind for future outings?
Eventually the gentle current dropped us into William's Lake where we were presented with our first minor obstacle of the day; a weed bloom. The entrance into the lake was choked with weeds. I ran my paddle deep a couple of times and found that we were in water that was at least a few feet deep as we stroked our way through the mass of stringy, water bound vegetation. Eventually the weeds dropped away and the paddling got easier.
There are a few houses on William's Lake. So anyone thinking of getting a little "extra" sun on a secluded lake should think twice. But the fishing should be great!
We paddled around a little to explore the lake. Well, to be honest, we also paddled around a bit because I was sure that the outflowing stream was in a small section to the east. I was right about following the lake shore on the right to get to the stream. I was wrong about how far we were going to have to follow the lakeshore to find it.
Just head north, not east, for a hasty exit from William's Lake.
We found ourselves once again cruising in a shallow, gently flowing stream that meandered through reeds, rushes, and other flora. The depth of the river never seemed to be more than three or four feet deep. Mostly it was only one to two feet deep. The river ranged from 15 to 25 feet wide as it wound through a marshy area. Eventually it narrowed down to 10 to 15 feet wide as we found ourselves floating through the back yards of some of the area's nicer houses.
Our second bridge of the trip was at Glenshire Drive. WKHM and WIBM are both located at the end of the road. The Glenshire bridge is all corrugated steel tubing. It was tall enough and the river was low enough that we had plenty of clearance. Perhaps it was just the prospect of paddling under the bridge, but there did not seem to be a very thick cross section of soil and pavement at the highest point of the bridge.
At least, I would not want to have a serious truck passing overhead as I was paddling underneath.
Our first decision of the day, after that whole deciding to paddle in a thunderstorm thing, came just north of Glenshire Drive at the yellow marker where the river splits into two branches. This entire area is full of reeds. The open water narrows to the point where you can barely keep your paddle out of them. One little error and your kayak is entangled in lily pads and reeds.
We came to a point where there was somewhat open water to the left and a narrow opening to the right. There are no signs to tell you which is the correct path. But there is a tall steel pole about 60 feet down the right hand branch with some orange tape up high.
We took that as a sign. And it was, too. It just was not a sign about which way to go. Of course, we did not have a chance to check out the left branch, so only my fevered imagination can tell you about the wide open water and easy paddling.
The right branch got very narrow very quickly. Instead of dipping your paddle into open water, you end up using it to grab the lily pads to drag yourself along. It was quite a bit of work. After the lily pads cleared away, the river runs through a wooded area. There are quite a few trees down. At one point, we had to run our kayaks over a submerged tree trunk and under another part of the same tree that was still out of the water.
A little teamwork, a lot of encouragement, and your's truly squished through the gap.
Shortly thereafter, the right branch and the left branch rejoined, the stream opened up and we continued on.
We then found ourselves floating along a long bend in the river that surrounded the back yard of one home. The yard was home to three tremendous willow trees. You could almost see them straining to suck all the water out of the river. One of them had helpfully tossed a substantial limb in our way. We paddled around it only to find ourselves faced with our first major obstacle; a metal deck sea wall that covered the entire width of the river. That would be the purple marker on the map.
We backed up and made a running start at the sea wall. Each of us ground to a halt as our kayaks ran aground with us up in the air. A little wiggling and jiggling will get you close enough to grab the sea wall with your hands. With one good shove, and a bit more wiggling and jiggling, you should get beyond the sea wall with relative ease. At least, that is how Jamie and Denis did it.
My first run at the sea wall ended up with my kayak coming at it crosswise instead of bow first. There were a couple of moments where everyone expected things to end poorly. Eventually I got free from the sea wall, backed up, and make a second run at it. After much wiggling and jiggling, I eventually made it over.
Although there was a second moment when my bow was buried in the river below the dam and my stern was balanced precariously on the dam when my position had the makings of yet another opportunity for things to "not end well". You see, in that position, I had no water under me! Kayaks are pretty stable when there is water from stem to stern. Not so much in the position I was in.
There were a couple other spots where we ended up grinding our way over or through some minor obstacle. There is a spot were a concrete foot bridge used to be that was a little tricky. And there were more than a few fallen trees that required a little zigging and zagging to find a way down stream.
We got to see a great many back yards. There were several homes adjacent to the river that had some sort of are to sit and enjoy the view. A couple have brick walls built into the earth and brick patios along the river. Most look pretty unused.
The only other obstacle of note was at the third green marker. There is a small island in the river. The right hand branch is blocked by a foot bridge that is too low to let us past. The left branch was mostly passable until we got where the two branches rejoined. There was a tree down there. When we tried to go around it to the right, we ended up getting hung up on the muddy bottom.
Our tour came to a close as we passed under Probert Road and into Ella Sharp Park. There is supposed to be a boat launch on the left. I never saw anything formal enough to call it a "boat launch". We managed to get out of our kayaks without falling over. It was a close thing with your's truly, but Jamie thankfully kept me dry. A little work on the boat access/ramp by the county would be money well spent.
Thanks very much to Denis and Jamie for a great trip and a great time. I'm off to buy a fishing kayak tomorrow and look forward to the coming season on Jackson's lakes and rivers.