“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” – Winnie The Pooh
Pooh Bear, he knows. My husband and I were grinning for two hours, from beginning to end of our first hot air balloon ride. And really, we still grinning.
A bucket list item for both of us, this trip also coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary. And although we did not have any inflated expectations (come on, it had to be said!), what few preconceived notions we had were pretty much…burst.
OK, not really.
I thought I would need a jacket. It’s cooler at higher altitudes, right? Didn’t think about the propane burner, and the very small space shared with two large men.
We both thought the ride would be bumpier, but there’s more turbulence on your average domestic airline flight than we experienced on this ride. Heck, my drive into work is rougher.
We also both envisioned a large landing area – you know, BIG, like a field, or open park space. We landed in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision. Much the delight of the residents – and the 6 kids who got a short tethered ride as a result.
Our pilot was Scott Lorenz of Westwind Balloon Company, which typically takes off near Kensington Metropark and Island State Recreation Area near Milford, MI. We met him at a park-and-ride lot, along with three other balloon companies. After sending up two trial balloons to test the wind direction – both of which went in opposite directions, leading all the pilots to shrug and say “OK, whatever” – we drove over to Island State Rec, which has thoughtfully provided a possibly-unofficial balloon “docking” area for just this activity.
After helping lay out and inflate the balloon with a huge fan, we climbed in the basket, and with a few shot of the burner – up, up and away we went (yes, in a beautiful balloon, just like the song, you old geezers you).
Wow. We could see the Detroit skyline, that’s how clear it was…and the view of the Huron River and Kent Lake was amazing. My photos don’t remotely capture the real thing. Picturesque also seems like an inadequate word for the view of our companion balloons, splashes of color against a gorgeous backdrop of Island Lake Rec Area and Kensington Metropark, the Huron glistening below them.
We flew for about 45 minutes in a remote kind of quiet that was interrupted only by the bursts from the propane burner to keep us aloft at about 500-1000 feet, and occasional conversation on what we were seeing.
Scott started scanning for a landing spot and decided – much to our surprise – on a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision. His crew captain, Gary, had already spotted us and was waiting for specifics on where we were going to end up. By the time we touched down, several dads and assorted kids had already gathered, and Scott piled the kids into the basket for a short tethered lift.
After deflating and packing up the balloon, it was time for the post-ballooning champagne – a tradition started with the earliest French ballooning flights. Upon seeing the smoke-belching balloons landing in their fields, residents were inclined to get out the pitchforks and stab the “demons” into submission. The French being…well, French…the problem was solved by offering champagne upon landing.
Champagne is almost always a good idea, isn’t it? And a perfect ending to a ballooning adventure.
Enjoy trail-side masterpieces in Milford, Dexter, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Flat Rock.
August through October, the Water Trail’s five Trail Towns are exhibiting high-quality reproductions of masterpieces from the Detroit Institute of Arts at riverside venues. Brought to you by the Huron River Water Trail and the DIA’s Inside|Out program. Each community will feature the installations at their local events. You can view many of the artworks as you paddle! And most (there are three pieces in each community) are within easy walking or bike-riding distance. MAP/EVENT DETAILS. #huronriver #DIAInsideOut
In Ann Arbor, Canoe Imagine Art (CIA) is a public art project that re-purposes canoes retired by the City to celebrate the history and attributes of the Huron River and/or the City’s park system. Four works of art were selected through a juried and public voting process for temporary installations along the Huron River. Check them out at Broadway, Island, Bandamer and Gallup Parks! They are stunning. #huronriver #a2riverart
Art along the Huron!
HRWC’s woody debris maintenance program, piloted in 2014, has expanded its staffing and impact. As the spring (and early summer) high waters recede, Ann Arbor Trout Unlimited (AATU) members have been working in conjunction with HRWC to keep Mill Creek open for fishing and paddling. As of last week Mill Creek is now free of impediments from the Sloan Preserve, through Dexter, to the Huron River. Note, Mill Creek from Dexter down to the Huron can be a leisurely paddle, while upstream is sometimes technical due to rock outcroppings and narrow passage.
Field work always offers multiple benefits. There’s the obvious work – clearing the stream or collecting water quality data. Another reason for field work is to offer citizens the opportunity to experience nature or gain some responsibility over our shared resources. Lastly, HRWC volunteers often discover amazing things. Sometimes a heron, baled eagle, turtle, or clam. Sometimes an egregious violation of local and state law. AATU volunteers came across a sea wall being installed on Mill Creek, with nearly zero protections to the creek, and no township, county, or state permits. With a quick call to HRWC’s office and a little detective work by staff, this work site was stopped within 18 hours. County and state officials will be working with the land owner and construction company to remediate the damage that has been done to this lovely riparian area.
As the summer draws to an end, make sure you get out and enjoy the river and its creeks. And while you’re there, keep your eyes open – you’ll never know what you’ll discover!
The Michigan Conservation Stewards program has been brought back to Washtenaw County by a collaboration of HRWC and peer organizations. We hope you, as a supporter of the Huron, will take the opportunity to strengthen your knowledge and thus ability to advocate for our natural resources. This 6-week course covers all the basics of conservation, introduces participants to a wide-array of topic experts, and is a great networking opportunity.
Local osprey are being outfitted with tracking devices so you and researches can monitor their travels, a new online learning opportunity will improve your knowledge of lakes, and researchers are predicting another severe algal bloom in Lake Erie this summer. Oil and gas pipeline accountability has been in the news a lot lately. Here we pulled together three articles that will catch you up on the latest happenings. And that is what is News to Us.
DNR monitoring osprey chick migration with GPS. Several osprey chicks have been outfitted with backpacks to help monitor the bird’s movements and growth. Two of the four chicks that will be monitored are from a nest in Kensington Metropark in Milford. There is a site where you can track the birds too at michiganosprey.org.
Introduction to Lakes course coming soon to a computer near you. With over 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is home to many lake enthusiasts. If that describes you and you have always wanted to know more, Michigan State University Extension is now offering an online course providing in introduction to lakes.
‘Severe’ algal blooms forecast this summer on Lake Erie. Researchers are predicting a more significant algal bloom this year than the one last summer that shutdown Toledo’s water supply for several days. The bloom won’t necessarily lead to issues with drinking water but will certainly impact recreation on Lake Erie and the organisms that live in the lake. Phosphorus runoff and heavy rains in June are two major contributors to the severity of the bloom. Conservationists are targeting large livestock operations for phosphorus reduction.
July has been a big month for news on oil and gas pipelines in Michigan. Here is a sampling of articles sharing pieces of the larger issue of moving oil through our state’s waterways.
- Life 5 years after the nation’s worst inland oil spill – NPR’s Environment Report revisits the Kalamazoo River oil spill which is the largest inland oil spill in US history caused by a break in an Enbridge pipeline that traversed this waterway.
- Report calls for heavy crude oil ban in Straits of Mackinac pipeline – The Michigan DEQ led a special task force that released a report last week on the status and future of pipelines in the state. Of particular focus is the Enbridge pipeline that runs through the Straits of Mackinac. Some say the recommendations are a big step in the right direction for safety and accountability. Others assert it does not go far enough to protect our freshwater resources.
- National Wildlife Federation to Sue Dept. of Transportation over Oil Pipeline Oversight Failures — On the heels of this report, the NWF announced they plan to sue the federal government for failing to uphold the Oil Pollution Act which requires approval of a safety plan for pipelines which travel in, on or under inland waters. This lawsuit comes after much scrutiny and investigation into the safety of the Enbridge pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.
Visit me at the office and you’ll find the Citizen’s Guide to State Government for the 98th Legislature within arm’s reach on my desk. During HRWC’s 50th year, we’re making it a priority to establish and deepen relationships with our elected officials through one-on-one meetings. Watershed communities are represented by no fewer than 10 representatives and four senators in Lansing whose votes and decisions can impact the watershed.
What do we hope to get out of these conversations? We are sharing current information on water issues relevant to each district as well as strategic opportunities to protect and enhance the resource for a diverse mix of uses (municipal, recreation, business, etc.). The conversations also are vehicles for developing more regular communications between the elected officials and HRWC.
Simply put: We want the needs and concerns for the river and its watershed communities to be heard.
HRWC Executive Director Laura Rubin and I are wrapping up several months of traveling the watershed – and sometimes beyond – to meet with the following state elected officials (see the maps of Senate and House districts overlaid on the watershed boundary):
Gretchen Driskell (District 52)
Jeff Irwin (District 53)
Klint Kesto (District 39)
Bill LaVoy (District 17)
Kristy Pagan (District 21)
Jim Runestad (District 44)
David Rutledge (District 54)
Pat Somerville (District 23)
Lana Theis (District 42)
Adam Zemke (District 55)
Hoon-Yung Hopgood (District 6)
Joe Hune (District 22)
Mike Kowall (District 15)
Rebekah Warren (District 18)
The conversations were productive and friendly, and most of the officials were very responsive to our requests for meetings. Next steps entail additional information sharing on current projects, and planning a guided legislative canoe and kayak trip on the river to highlight progress and challenges. The frequency of follow-up meetings hasn’t been determined, but we can be certain that term limits will necessitate on-going conversations as new public servants represent the watershed.
The state-level meetings build on a long tradition of engagement from local and county public officials and representatives. In fact, HRWC was formed by the Michigan Legislature in 1965 and the Board of Directors is comprised of representatives from member governments. HRWC is a nonpartisan research and education organization that protects and restores the river for healthy and vibrant communities.
Join us for the Full Moon Paddle Trip with bonfire and s’mores: Pickerel Lake to Crooked Lake
Experience the quiet waters of the Huron River with expert paddler Barry Lonik, HRWC staff, and other river enthusiasts.
Complete this form to register. Spaces are limited so registration is necessary by Wednesday, July 29th.
The trip begins at the Pickerel Lake beach, accessible off Hankerd Road, north of N. Territorial Road. We will meet there at 7:00 p.m. Sunset and moonrise are just before 9:00 p.m.. There is a short carry from the parking area to the water. We will paddle around Pickerel Lake, chat about natural history, watersheds and water quality, and gradually make our way down the channel to Crooked Lake. A campfire and s’mores fixings will greet us at Crooked Lake. Then our group will make the return trip hopefully under the light of the Full Moon.
Bring your own watercraft, gear, food, drinking water, and appropriate clothing for the weather. Every paddler must wear a flotation device – bring your own. A flashlight or headlamp also is a good idea.
For a Paddler’s Safety Checklist click HERE.
So far we have had a pretty wet summer. I am sure that is not news to you. The river levels are well above average all along the Huron. Generally this is a good thing, as it keeps the tributaries flowing, provides new habitat for critters to populate or feed at, and allows more of the river to be floated by us all.
Sometimes these higher flows can be bad. The current is more rapid making it difficult for fish and other wildlife to move against it to find food or shelter. Strong currents can also be dangerous for paddlers.
In some places, our actions as humans, interacting with and changing the structure of our environment, exacerbates the consequences of heavy rains, which are occurring more frequently due to climate change. In natural environments, heavy rains slowly collect (after saturating the soil) and flood lowlands and eventually the river after a long period (days, even). In built up environments with lots of hard, impervious surfaces, and straightened channels or underground pipes, the rain does not even have a chance to soak into the ground, let alone move out into a flood plain. The result can be a rapid rise in water level and velocity that can be destructive or even deadly to wildlife and humans alike. A good example of a built-up area like this is Allens Creek in Ann Arbor. Over 90% of the stream in this tributary watershed is piped underground, and over 40% of the land cover in the watershed is impervious.
During a 3-inch rain storm on June 14, the top video here was recorded at the outfall of Allens Creek to the Huron River, just downstream of Argo Dam. The flow out of Allens Creek exceeded 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) on two separate occasions during the storm, and hit a peak flow of 1,350 cfs. The flow returned to its usual trickle within a matter of hours. The second/bottom video shows what it looked like the next day.
Nothing could survive, human or otherwise, in a concentrated flow with such a velocity. The flow is strong enough to send logs and boulders downstream and scour the river bed of any finer materials or living plants. Note how the downstream river condition following the blast looks more like a Rocky Mountain gorge river than the Midwestern meander the Huron usually is. Such “flashy” flows are not natural, and HRWC is working with partner municipalities to change the way stormwater is managed. New approaches utilize green infrastructure to capture and infiltrate rains into the groundwater before they hit the pipes or streams. Other, larger storage projects, like the one under Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor or in Mary Beth Doyle Park are being installed to hold storm flows back. It all makes a difference, but more is needed to overcome past actions and return our streams and the river to a more natural state.
HRWC staff picks of favorite watershed spots, celebrating 50 years of river protection and restoration work.
My desk at work faces the office window overlooking Argo Pond. Since my arrival 8 years ago it has been a constant source of inspiration, for my life and my fundraising work. Some would argue that I am writing about a pond, an impoundment and not the river. However, like the river, I will keep moving on, and appreciate the view of Argo and what it has taught me as a companion of solace all these years. The view has taught me to take my time, and to enjoy the scenery and the beauty and to see what is more interesting by not rushing through my work day. It reminds me that my work is all about what I am looking at. It encourages me to go with the flow, but to also diverge when the opportunity presents, because changing direction can have beneficial impacts. I am but a witness to change. Change in weather, the change of light from morning to night and changes in color of trees over seasons. In my neighborhood, just outside my window, I have seen the most popular sport change from club rowing to paddle boarding. I have seen eagles, osprey, foxes, ice skaters, early morning runners training, cyclists, walkers, and pet owners with all species of dogs go round the pond. And then there is the dam. A favorite inspiration on difficult days? The dam. The dam reminds me that we can overcome obstacles, because the river always finds a way.
HRWC is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year!
Tell us your favorite watershed spot HERE.
Appreciate the River, today, Sunday July 12, by joining HRWC for some fun or heading to YOUR favorite spot with friends.
When you spend 50 years researching, protecting, enjoying, and telling the community about the Huron River, you’re bound to have a favorite spot that you hold close to your heart.
Whether it’s the site of a grand adventure or simply a quiet moment with nature, there’s a lot to appreciate about the Huron River watershed.
We’ve collected some of our favorite spots to share with you — most from HRWC Staff. It’s tempting to keep them a secret, but what’s the point in working so hard to keep the river safe if everyone doesn’t get to enjoy it?
So come on.
Tell us. Where’s your favorite spot in your community on the Huron River? Leave it in the comments or give us more details using this form.