June 8, 2017
I have been camping many times. I have been kayaking many times. Last night was my first time combining those two loves, as I seized upon a change in plans to finally give it a try. Part of my motivation was the fact that REI Stewardship has again, for the third year in a row, given a grant to the Friends of Island Lake, of which I am a member. Two years ago, they helped us install a canoe slide to help park users access the Huron River Water Trail. Last year saw almost 1,000 volunteer hours and a fabulous grant lead to the creation of a new five mile hiking trail in the park. Here is a picture that shows the beginning of both the slide and the trail.
This year, they are helping us fund improvements to the access to the water trail through our project to improve the canoe camps within the park, most notably by making it much easier to enter and exit the river via a small floating dock. I will be leading the project, and now that we know we have been awarded the grant, it is time to start planning! Thanks REI!!!
Now, back to the adventure! Island Lake is an incredible park, as if you venture into the right parts of the park, you get a uniquely “up-north” feel, even though the park is on the outskirts of metro-Detroit and just north of Ann Arbor. The river is an especially magical part of the park, as for reasons beyond me, very few people use it. I guess that is part of what makes the magic, but it does seem a shame that people are missing out on such a treasure. The seven or so miles through the park are the beginning of the “natural river” section that runs from here to just before Ann Arbor. It is one of the stretches that makes its designation as a National Water Trail especially appropriate.
My trip was pretty simple – hop in the river after work, paddle a hour downstream to the campsite, camp, and paddle a couple hours back (pretty good current at the moment). It was a beautiful night, as I launched from the Kent Lake dam at 6:30 in the evening. On my way to camp, I saw two fly fisherman and three paddlers, the only park guests I would see in my 15 hours from launch to take-out. It was a relaxing paddle down a river with a rustic feel. The park allows nature to be nature for the most part, cutting away just enough from fallen trees to make the river passable. On this trip, there was only one spot I thought sketchy, but I glided over it without issue (and it was obvious the park staff were mid-way through cutting an access through).
(Click on pics to see larger versions, and look for the hot air balloons!)
My approach to campsite #1 made it clear whey we need to improve access, as paddlers are met with a vertical bank that reaches about two feet above the water line.
My approach to campsite #2 was almost dreamlike, as my boat just floated in nice and easy, with only my rudder to help steer it along. (listen with sound)
As you can see, campsite #2 is much easier to access, and so we will likely put the new dock at #1, but it would be good to add one here as well, as while most of the river is sandy, this spot is very slightly mucky. As I expect we will be also addressing erosion and bank vegetation, this may improve as a result.
Upon landing, I was surprised to find the campsite in immaculate shape. As I am a lover of rustic sites, it was just about perfect (maybe take out the grill and substitute in a smaller fire pit with grill grates). Given that the park residents were starting to come out to feast, I quickly set-up my hammock and made a fire. A few hours of reading, laying on my back looking at the trees and the stars, and a delicious Mountain House backpacker meal later, I was snug in my hammock for the night.
In the morning, I checked out campsite #1 and found it nearly the equal to #2 (if you enjoy hammocks, #2 is for you). Overall the campground is in very nice shape, and I am happy to see that we can ever so carefully use our REI funds to make small tweaks that will help paddlers further enjoy their stay in the park.
I enjoyed the two hour paddle back to the dam, but was unable to take more than one photo due to a refreshing on and off rain.
Do you have ideas for how we can improve (but not too much) the canoe/kayak camping experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Either way, go get on the water, and maybe do a bit of canoe/kayak camping yourself.