Muskegon: Paddlers for publicity: Muskegon River Voyage of Discovery sets off in June

By Eric Gaertner

The Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) -- They are as different as the river sections they are about to paddle.

A dozen paddlers who have a variety of backgrounds are set to tackle all 217 miles of the Muskegon River, the state's second-longest river, which winds through forested land, agricultural property and urban areas.

A naturalist, a retired journalist, a retired professor, a canoe livery owner and others make up a group that is looking to draw attention to a valuable natural resource. They are scheduled to spend 11 days in June out on the river in kayaks and canoes.

Sponsored by the Muskegon River Watershed Assembly, the Muskegon River Voyage of Discovery is designed to be fun, generate publicity and be informative. The event is scheduled for June 8-18.

The Muskegon River paddling event comes a year after the Grand River Expedition drew attention to the state's longest river, the Grand River. About 200 people paddled at least a portion of the 12-day Grand River Expedition with a core group paddling the entire 262 miles.

Wayne Groesbeck, chairman of the watershed assembly board, said he is looking forward to paddling in the event with his wife in a tandem kayak. The couple from Muskegon has kayaked different sections of the Muskegon River, but never its entire length.

"I hope the publicity the event draws, that it gives people a greater appreciation of the resource we have in the Muskegon River," Groesbeck said. "We're hoping for a unique chance to get to know our river as a single living thing, and to learn what the river means to a variety of people who care about it."

Jeff Alexander, author of "The Muskegon: The Majesty and Tragedy of Michigan's Rarest River, said he is glad the group is conducting an event to draw attention to the river.

Alexander said he hopes it helps local residents understand the river's significance to areas beyond Croton Dam and Muskegon County.

"It's a big river, it's an important river, it's a magnificent river," said Alexander, whose book is in its third printing after its initial release in 2006. The book examines the devastation and restoration efforts that have impacted the Muskegon River.

The factors that contributed to the river's problems over the years stem from the lumbering era, manmade and artificial dams, and pollution from industries, agricultural runoff and storm water runoff.

Ken Johnson, a watershed assembly board member, will not be part of the trip in June, but he is providing support for the group based on his experience. He has navigated the entire length of the Muskegon River with his son.

"That is going to be a really great thing," Johnson said. "It's an enthusiastic group."

In addition to the enjoyment and publicity, the event is designed for the paddlers to conduct some general research of the river. They are expected to inventory the land cover adjacent to the river, conduct water monitoring, catalog the wildlife they see and record a pictorial record of the trip.

The Muskegon River Voyage of Discovery is scheduled to begin June 8 at Houghton Lake's control structure in Roscommon County and finish June 18 at Fisherman's Landing in Muskegon. The trip covers six counties.

A celebration event is being planned for the finish at Fisherman's Landing. Organizers plan to have a speaker and the public is invited to the 1 p.m. event.

The public is invited to join in for a portion of the trip. While the main group is by invitation only, the organizers are hoping others will participate on one of the day's sections of the river voyage. The participants are expected to paddle for six to 10 hours each day.

Those interested in paddling a section must have their own canoe or kayak.

The Muskegon River Watershed Assembly's stated mission is being dedicated to the preservation, protection, restoration and sustainable use of the Muskegon River, the land it drains and the life it supports through educational, scientific and conservation initiatives. The watershed assembly's offices are located at Ferris State University in Big Rapids.

Terry Stilson, program coordinator for the assembly, said this is the first time that the group has tried an event along the entire river rather than just sections.

Stilson is not planning to paddle in the event, but she said she will be updating the assembly's website,, daily during the voyage.

Groesbeck said his passion for the Muskegon River watershed formed during his 34 years fishing in the area. He has since served for more than 12 years on the watershed assembly board, including more than two years as chairman.

"It's really the source of all life in the watershed," Groesbeck said.

Published: Thu, May 19, 2011