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Follow the Huron River Water Trail to Adventure

Paddling and Biking Upstream of Dexter
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One of our family’s favoritePaddlerHudsonMills trips on the Huron takes us through the Huron’s Natural River District, a designation recognizing the natural and scenic beauty of the river as it flows between Kent Lake and the western boundary of Ann Arbor.

We like to load kayaks as well as bicycles for a “paddle-down-cycle-up trip,” but you can of course also use two cars for a shuttle trip.  We start just above Mile 69 on the Water Trail (page 10 on HRWC’s Paddler’s Companion) at the DNR launch site off McGregor Road in Dexter Township after dropping the bikes (or other car) off at Dexter-Huron Metropark (you will need a Metropark pass).

We launch the kayaks into Portage Lake, but quickly need to get out again to portage the Flook Dam.  After the portage, we float into a seeming wilderness, with crystal waters clear down to the sand and gravel bottom, where we can watch fish torpedo by.  My husband commences counting turtles sunning themselves on logs.  I zig-zag from shore to shore, doing some float-by botany of the cardinal flowers, bluebells, and other flora.

The 8 mile trip takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark as well as the City of Dexter, where you can take a short side trip up Mill Creek (if flow conditions permit), take out at Mill Creek Park, and enjoy the beautiful trails the city has constructed along the restored creek.  You can taste baked goods from the Dexter Bakery or have lunch at one of the many restaurants, or an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen.

Paddling under the B2B non-motorized bridge in Dexter-Huron Metropark

Paddling under the B2B non-motorized bridge in Dexter-Huron Metropark

We take out at Dexter-Huron Metropark, where we jump on our bikes and head back up to the car along the Border-to-Border Trail, a non-motorized pathway that, when completed, will run all the way from Washtenaw County’s border with Wayne County (down by Ford Lake)  to its border with Livingston County (back at Portage Lake). The B2B Trail takes us back upstream along asphalt and boardwalks along the river and through wooded swamps and wetlands.  We get another chance for a snack as we bike through Dexter and up to Mill Creek Park.  Then the B2B takes us through Hudson Mills Metropark, where it ends, and we need to complete the trip along North Territorial and up Dexter-Pinckney Road to get back to our car at the DNR boat launch.  The road is passable, but it will sure be nice when the county completes this section of the B2B, and we can make our entire trip free of auto traffic.

Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! 

toyota_logoHuron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.

Follow the Huron Water Trail to adventure…

Fish, paddle, or play at the Bell Road access point

Located slightly north of the intersection of Huron River Drive and North Territorial, this Huron River access site has it all. The river is absolutely lovely here, with lush forested riparian zones, shallow rocky riffles, deep pools, and a path that stretches upstream and downstream along the river.

The parking area is a little confusing. It is at the end of a dead-end road and there is no parking lot and you can’t see the river.  The site is officially a DNR access point though, so parking is allowed here.  Park at the end of the road and walk fifty yards down the path to get to the river.

I now call this location my “swimming hole” and regularly take my six year old son to play in the river, tube up and down the small rapids, throw rocks, and jump off logs and the small rock dam. It is also on a section of the river known for a superb smallmouth bass population (please catch and release!), and many people use it as a starting point for paddling instead of the busier Hudson-Mills Metropark slightly downstream.

An early spring shot of the Huron River at Bell Road.

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to adventure . . .

Explore flat water paddling in Ann Arbor!logo-hrwt

The launch at Barton Park, just below the Barton Dam provides convenient parking and easy flat water paddling for a nice round trip down to Bandemer Park and back. The route takes you through the Barton Nature Area. There’s a parking lot at Bird Road and Huron River Drive (it is often full on weekend afternoons) and it takes about 45 minutes of paddling to get to the landing spot at Bandemer Park (river right) just downstream of the M-14 bridge. There is a launch/dock with nearby restrooms and a picnic area, including a shelter. Paddling back to Barton is a little more effort, but not bad.

The launch at Barton, just downstream of the dam.

The launch at Barton, just downstream of the dam.

The Ann Arbor Rowing Club, Michigan Men’s Rowing and Huron High School Rowing are heavy users of this section of the river, with most practices in the early mornings and evenings. To avoid problems, paddle closer to the shorelines during these times, or be prepared to get out of the way quickly. Watching these teams work the river can be exciting.

Have fun, stay safe with these TIPS from the Trail!

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River Water Trail in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron from Flat Rock or paddle to Milford from Proud Lake, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket, hear a river history talk or learn to fly fish! 

toyota_logoHuron River Appreciation Day is sponsored by TOYOTA.

Follow the Huron River Water Trail to adventure . . .

Tubing on the Huron River

My tubing buddies

Explore tubing on the river between Dexter and Ann Arbor

If you’ve never tubed on the river you should try it.  At first I was intimidated by the young, more rowdy crowds of tubers but found quickly that tubing can be a quiet, cooling, and beautiful way to experience the river. The tubes are relatively inexpensive.  Grab a pump that can run off your power outlet in your car.  Pick a hot day and leave a bike or car at the Washtenaw County Stokes-Burns Park on Zeeb Road and then head to Dexter-Huron Metropark.

The rest is easy.  Relax into your tube (wear a bathing suit or shorts that can get wet) and the steady current will take you gently down the river.  The mile-long trip takes about an hour and a half and takes you through a beautiful stretch of the river where you catch glimpses of fish, very large and colorful dragonflies, indian paintbrush plants, herons, osprey, and other plants and animals I can’t name. On a hot day, its just about perfect!  We do try to avoid the weekend river rush-hour and usually have a very relaxing experience.

If you are looking for a more lively adventure with lots of people and action, check out Tube the River from the City of Ann Arbor for info on trips through the Argo Cascades.

Join HRWC for Huron River Appreciation Day, Sunday July 10! Come along on a guided trip of the Huron River in Dexter, paddle the Lower Huron with Motor City Canoe Rental, hear a talk on paddling safety and get a free life jacket in Milford or Dexter, learn the history of the Huron or take a fly fishing lesson in Ypsilanti! Sponsored by TOYOTA.

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Wild & Scenic Film Festival Comes to Ann Arbor, April 21

Celebrate Earth Day! Watch inspiring award-winning films like “eXXpedition” and meet local non-profits working together to protect the environment.

eXXpedition

“eXXpedition” follows the journey of 14 women who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on a scientific research mission to make the unseen seen – from the plastics and toxics in our oceans to those in our bodies. A story of sailing, science, female leadership, exploration, citizen engagement and the vital interconnections between human and environmental health – it aims to inspire hope for a healthier future.

Wild & Scenic Film Festival
Date:  Thursday, April 21, 2016
Location:  Michigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor
Time:  Doors open at 6pm; films start at 6:30pm

Tickets are available online through the Michigan Theater.
$10—general admission
$8—students and seniors and donors to any of the presenting organizations
$7.50—Michigan Theater members (Gold members will not be admitted for free) and host organization members

Featured films include eXXpedition, Monarchs and Milkweed, I Heard, Soil Carbon Cowboys and HRWC’s own Osprey Return to the Huron, produced by local film makers 7 Cylinders Studio.

Motivation to take on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges often stems from a personal connection to nature and the resources involved. Wild & Scenic films speak to the environmental concerns and celebrations of our planet telling stories about the environment and outdoor adventure.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival On Tour is a collection of films specially chosen by local hosts from the annual festival held the third week of January in Nevada City, California. Now in its 14th year, the 5-day event features over 150 award-winning films, guest speakers, celebrities, and activists. The home festival kicks-off an international tour to over 150 communities around the globe.

The Wild & Scenic Film Festival Ann Arbor is hosted by a unique partnership of six locally based environment and nature organizations – The Ecology Center, Huron River Watershed Council, Legacy Land Conservancy, Leslie Science & Nature Center, School of Natural Resources and Environment through the University of Michigan, and The Stewardship Network.

Quiet Water Symposium, March 5

Plan your summer paddling adventures!

Algonquin canoe routes, the Georgian Bay coastline, the Grand Traverse Islands, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Canada’s Yukon and Teslin Rivers, Lake Superior, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, the Huron River and more will be featured by over 30 presenters at the 21st Annual Quiet Water Symposium.

Join the Huron River Water Trail for “RiverUp! in Moving Pictures,” a screening of 4 short films, produced by RiverUp! in Moving Pictures, 2pm, Betsie RoomHRWC with 7 Cylinders Studio that tell the story of our river’s revitalization. Talks from outdoor recreation experts on camping secrets, top backpacking treks and kayaking college campuses in Michigan, packing, portaging, safety, cycling and nature photography along with demonstrations and exhibits round out the day.

Date:  Saturday, March 5, 2016

Location: The Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture Education
(Farm Lane, south of Mt Hope – on the campus of MSU)

Time: 9am to 5:30pm
(RiverUp! in Moving Pictures, 2pm in the Betsie Room)

Admission: Adults $10.00; Students (with ID) $5.00; Under 12 Free

Exhibitors include clubs and nature centers, handcrafted and historic watercraft, conservation and watershed groups, outfitters, liveries, and biking, hiking and water trails.

Come to QWS to plan your summer paddling adventures!

FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.quietwatersymposium.org

Widget-HRWTThe Huron River Water Trail is a 104-mile inland paddling trail connecting people to the Huron’s natural environment, its history, and the communities it touches in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Stonefly Search: Lots of searching, not so many stoneflies

January 23rd was a beautiful day for the annual Stonefly event.  The weather hovered around 30 degrees and the sun shone nicely throughout the volunteers’ time outside.  They were searching for stoneflies, an insect that only lives in the healthiest creeks and rivers. The absence and presence of stoneflies, and the trends in their population that we see after visiting a location over and over again, give us clues as to how the water is changing over time.

stonefly_jackie Richards

The beautiful Fleming Creek at Parker Mill County Park. credit: Jackie Richards

Strange Weather

Unfortunately for the purposes of data analysis and clear-cut answers, stoneflies are affected by more than water quality, however.  Strange weather can also play havok on their ecosystems, causing populations to drop off. Our volunteers came back with very low amounts of stoneflies this year, and while we can’t be certain, it is possible that our variable Michigan weather is to blame.  You may recall that December was unseasonably warm in 2015, and wonder how that might affect the insects.   However, in this case, it wasn’t a warm December that hurt the stoneflies, but instead February 2015, a month that was extremely cold.  In fact, it was one of the coldest February’s on record.  When streams and rivers are covered by thick ice, oxygen levels decline, which is bad for all aquatic life but particularly bad for stoneflies, who have high oxygen requirements.  Also, February and early March are when winter stonefly adults are emerging, mating, and depositing eggs; all activities hampered by extreme cold and ice cover. In summary, the cold 2015 winter had direct consequences for the stoneflies in 2016.

Volunteers did not find stoneflies at many places this year, but five locations in particular that did not have stoneflies were noteworthy as all of them have a long (10+ years) history of always holding stoneflies.  In addition, all of these locations have great insect populations at our other events and there are no indications of water quality issues, further strengthening the argument that this year was a weather-related population decline. These five locations were three places on the main branch of the Huron (White Lake, Zeeb, and Bell Roads), Arms Creek at Walsh Road, and Boyden Creek at Delhi Road. Many other locations had reduced numbers or family counts.

Those interested in all results can see them here: PDF report.

A spud is an essential tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

A spud is an essential ice-smashing tool for any stonefly searcher. credit: Francis Connolly

Other Results:

Prior to the event, I laid out several examples of things that we would watch for this year:

Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail:  Stoneflies have been dropping off here for the past decade.  Volunteers did come back with stoneflies this year, though not the winter stoneflies but rather a family that is more widely available.  Still, this is good news.

Honey Creek at Wagner Road: Stoneflies were missing here in 2014 for the first time, and unfortunately volunteers did not find them this year either.

Woods Creek at Lower Huron Metropark: Just like Honey Creek at Wagner Road, stoneflies were not found here for the second year in a row.

Insect populations are resilient and can bounce back with good water quality and suitable weather conditions.  While this year was disappointing, the mild winter we are experiencing right now may result in a bumper crop in 2017. Come next January, HRWC and its volunteers will be ready to check it out!

 

Answering Questions with Bugs: The Stonefly Search

The slender winter stonefly, Capniidae.  Credit: www.troutnut.com

The slender winter stonefly, Family Capniidae. Credit: www.troutnut.com

It is January, which means that one of HRWC’s favorite events, the Stonefly Search, is right around the corner.

Stoneflies are interesting because they are the most pollution intolerant group of aquatic insects that we have in Michigan.  They can only thrive in the cleanest water with high levels of dissolved oxygen.  When they are found at a location it is a confirmation of high water quality, and when they disappear from a stream it is a warning sign that water quality has degraded.

It might seem strange to many that we hunt for stoneflies in the winter.  This is because two of the stonefly families, the Capniidae and the Taeniopterygidae, change from aquatic nymphs to terrestrial adults in the late winter and early spring.  This means that we can’t find them during the normal April River Roundup, and so we have to look for them earlier in the year!

The Stonefly Search always produces interesting results.  Let’s take a look at some of the findings in recent years.

Stonefly Successes!

Reported in 2013: Four sites had the best stonefly samples that had ever been seen at those locations: Chilson Creek at Chilson Road, Fleming Creek at Galpin Road, the Huron River at Flat Rock, and Woodruff Creek at Buno Road.  At each of these sites, the stoneflies normally found at the location were there, but also new stonefly families were found that had never been seen there before! A greater diversity of stoneflies indicates greater stream health.  These are promising results and hopefully it will continue into longer term trends.

Reported in 2011: Since 2007 and up through last year, our volunteers have found 4 families of stoneflies in Mann Creek. This includes 2 stonefly families that can be found in creeks year round (Perlidae & Perlodidae), and the 2 stonefly families that are only found in the winter (Capniidae & Taeniopterygidae). Even in the Huron’s healthiest streams, it is unusual to find more than 2 families of stoneflies during the Stonefly Search.  So, Mann Creek is special indeed. Mann Creek flows through a residential neighborhood- but one really interesting thing about Mann Creek is that there is a very wide natural riparian zone surrounding the creek.  This riparian area provides habitat and food for stoneflies as branches and leaves fall into the creek. To see Mann Creek and its impressive riparian zone, click here.

Stonefly Failures!

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Stonefly Search: Kid friendly since 1995. credit: Peter Jung

Reported in 2015: Davis Creek at Pontiac Trail (near South Lyon) is a location where the stonefly population has dropped over time. This change is concerning because it happened slowly over the last ten years and our spring and fall samples show a very similar pattern.  In the early 2000s we regularly found one or two stonefly families at the creek, but they started to drop off and now have not been found since 2009.

Reported in 2015:  The team searching for stoneflies in Honey Creek at Wagner Road (Ann Arbor) were unable to find stoneflies. This site has been sampled 14 times since 1995, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. This is a site with lots of turbulent highly oxygenated water and should be a great place for stoneflies. Taken in isolation, the absence of the stoneflies at Wagner Road would not be concerning given that this is a single sample.  However, two upstream Honey Creek Adopt-a-Stream sites used to have stoneflies but haven’t in years.  Stoneflies haven’t been seen in Honey Creek at Jackson Road since 2008; they haven’t been at Honey Creek at Pratt Road since 2003. All of the pieces combined indicates that the overall quality of Honey Creek is degrading over the last decade.

Reported in 2013: The team searching for stoneflies in Woods Creek in Belleville came back disappointed.  Wood’s Creek at the Lower Huron Metropark has been sampled 12 times since 1997, and this is the first time that stoneflies could not be found. The problem likely comes from the thick ice and difficult conditions rather than pollution or disturbed stream habitat, but we will keep an eye on Wood’s Creek next year.

What will we find in 2016?

Will Mann Creek continue to reign as the king of Huron River stoneflies?  Will we find stoneflies where they have never been before?

Will we find stoneflies this year at Davis, Honey, and Woods Creek, or has the water quality there continued to decline?

We will see you on January 23 and we will answer these questions together!

Click here for registration and more information.

What will this Search find this year? credit: Dan Myer

What will HRWC volunteers find this year? credit: Dan Myer

Winter Stoneflies in Arctic Michigan

A Celebration of a Very Cold Event

by Dr.David Wilson

We don our coats and boots, go forth to break the ice

In frigid, frosty weather that no one could say is nice

We flounder through the streams in search of a great prize

Taeniopterids and Capniids, precious winter stoneflies

 

Winter stones are quite the thing

Though one surely might be wondering

How these tiny creatures could ever be so bold

As to live and thrive in this bitter winter cold

 

Paul tells us that in winter these critters really thrive

Cold water holds the oxygen to keep them all alive

And winter is helpful in another major way

The cold keeps fierce predators so very far away

 

Quite sensitive to any water pollution,

Winter stones provide a quick solution

If we find ‘em we can be sure

That the stream is sweet and pure

 

The critters are small and rather dark

In this frigid weather they have a lark

Scamper about in the ice and snow

There’s no other place for them to go

 

To ID them here’s what you do

Look for wingpads four and cerci two

Along the flanks no gills are found

And on each leg two claws astound

 

The ice is thick, the water chills,

With cold I’m fed up to the gills

But none could say that we are quitters

We’ll search ‘til we find those little critters

 

Believe me, I know whereof I speak

You’ll find out fast if your waders leak

One hears screams of pain from the bravest jocks

When that icy water hits their socks

 

Collectors and runners can stay in motion

Stay warmer thus, I have a notion

But picking requires that one stand still

Can be quite bleak, cause many a chill

 

Don’t go on ice unless waders you wear

If you’re not wearing waders your weight it won’t bear

If you should venture this dumb thing to do

I guarantee you’ll surely break through

 

Let me warn you right now; listen up and take heed

Bring twice the wraps you think that you’ll need

That usually turns out to be about right

So that you are not left in a piteous plight

 

A jug of warm water is always quite pleasing

Helps to keep that D-net from freezing

And stout rubber gloves keep collectors’ hands dry

Help a great deal when frostbite is nigh

 

On these trips a truly most gracious amenity

May help the participants keep some of their sanity

A big jug of cocoa sure hits the spot

Beloved by all if it’s nice and hot.

Stonefly Search is coming January 23! Registration and info here.

About the author:

Dave Wilson is a HRWC volunteer and trained collector who has attended 9 Stonefly Searches and countless other HRWC events.

What’s hot and what’s not in the Huron River Watershed

Streams ranked from best to worst: Where does your favorite fall?

On October 3, HRWC volunteers spread across Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties and looked for the aquatic insects and crustaceans that indicate the water and habitat quality of our river and creeks.  

2014 10 18 RU by John Lloyd (8)

Sampling Traver Creek in October. credit: John Lloyd

Using this and other environmental data collected by HRWC volunteers over the past 20 years, I have developed a ranking of the various streams in the Huron River Watershed.  Streams listed at the top of this list have the best aquatic life and habitat in the Huron, and streams at the bottom of list are extremely impaired with little aquatic life and highly disturbed habitat.

Volunteer-collected data directly contributes to our knowledge of the conditions of the watershed and is a key component in directing management and restoration activities.

If you want more details on the ranking below, HRWC will present it and other data findings on January 12, 2016, 6 pm at our office (1100 N Main Street, Ann Arbor). All are welcome and no registration is required.

Ranking of Aquatic Life and Habitat (from best to worst)

Excellent

1. Huron Creek (Dexter)

2. Woodruff/Mann Creeks (Brighton)

3. Honey Creek (Pinckney)

4. Huron River (Upstream of Proud Lake)

Good

5. Woods Creek (Belleville)

6. Boyden Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

7. Pettibone Creek (Milford)

8. Fleming Creek (Ann Arbor)

9. Huron River (from Proud Lake downstream to Zeeb Road)

10. Portage Creek (Multiple townships to the northwest of Ann Arbor and north of Dexter)

11. Mill Creek (Dexter and Chelsea)

12. Hay Creek (east of Pinckney)

Fair

13. Arms Creek (Webster Township)

14. Huron River (Ann Arbor and downstream)

15. Davis Creek (South Lyon)

16. South Ore (Brighton)

17. Honey Creek (west of Ann Arbor)

18. Chilson Creek (west of Brighton)

Poor

19. Horseshoe Creek (Whitmore Lake)

20. Downriver Tributaries (Port Creek, Bancroft-Noles Drain near Flat Rock)

21. Traver Creek (Ann Arbor)

22. Malletts Creek (Ann Arbor)

23. Norton Creek (Wixom)

24. Swift Run (Ann Arbor)

25. Millers Creek (Ann Arbor)

Full River Roundup report is available for download.

 


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