INTRO: Today is the start of The Grand River Expedition 2010. Hundreds of people will paddle canoes and kayaks 225 miles from Jackson County to Grand Haven. It’s a two week trip. Many of the participants paddled the Grand earlier this spring for a shorter version of the trip. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus found lots of reasons why people like the challenge.
The Grand River Expedition was done twice before: in 2000 and in 1990. Gloria Miller was 65 years old the first time and sanitation was an issue.
“I’ll tell you when we went down the Grand in 1990 and got to Grand Rapids we saw little brown things floating in the river. And it smelled too.”
Gloria Miller is now 85. Her years teaching chemistry trained her for land and water conservation. She started The Friends of The Looking Glass River. They helped get cities to separate their storm water runoff from their sewer water flow.
“The plants are constructed so they can separate the storm water which is still not pure because it comes off of parking lots and so on and grass fields and agriculture fields. But at least it doesn’t have the contaminates you have in sewage when you flush the toilet. So we’ve improved things immensely.”
While Miller protects the environment, her friend Jeannie Beaversdorf traces history along the Grand River. She’s got weatherproof posters in her hand she’ll nail to trees.
“We’re mapping the trail today with these markers. We put the historical sites and all the access from Grand Ledge to Portland.”
As canoers get ready to put in under a bridge, Beaversdorf looks up at the surrounding cliffs. The cliffs are about 100 feet above the river. It’s where Chief Okemos lived the end of his life.
“After 1838, the cholera epidemic, that Okemos village broke up. There was no more natives living there. But he had his own camp there. But he also camped here. But their village life was pretty much gone. By the 1840’s they were pretty much beat up. Their culture was destroyed.”
A modern day canoe trip is a history lesson. On this spring day, the paddlers are honoring Verlen Kruger. He died in 2004. But remains the giant of canoeing. Kruger read the account of a British fur trader who paddled 50 miles on the Grand in one day. Jeff Potter explains.
“Verlen yeah he’s the big adventure hero. He was the one who found out it could be done. Historians didn’t even know if this was an exaggeration in Hugh Heward’s journal as to whether someone actually could paddle that far. And Verlen verified that it was possible. And then he kept doing it every year as long as he lived I think.”
Verlen Kruger is in the Guiness Book of World Records. He paddled more than 100,000 miles over 40 years. This month’s Grand River expedition honors him. It’s from near the headwaters in Hillsdale County to Lake Michigan. Kruger’s 3 and half year 28,000 mile trip crisscrossing North America is the longest known canoe trip ever. Why did he do it? His widow Jenny says,
“Just because it was there he would say. That’s what he would say.”
Jeff Potter is unique too. See his zany website: www.outyourbackdoor.com. He insisted I ride in the front of his canoe for this trip in April.
We did a quarter Hugh, just 13 miles instead of the 50. Potter pointed out the wildlife.
“You see that mink there? He’s got something in his mouth. He’s going up over that log.”
The highlight was a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a rock.
Deborah DeLorenzo and a friend kayaked. She lives north of Ypsilanti where she plies the Huron. Not the same as this river.
“As we drifted down river we saw a fine handsome male bald eagle, flashing white tail. He deigned his stop on not one but two trees. We could see him eating the fish he caught. There were carpets of trillium and Great Blue Heron. With just the two of us we could hear everything. They say the Grand River. That’s a perfect name.”
Some 50 boats did the race in April. A horn blew when each one disembarked at the end. DeLorenzo said she wasn’t racing anybody.
“I think the good thing about a challenge is to challenge yourself. And it’s not really whether you’re before or after somebody else. It’s that you did it.”