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Traverse Area Paddle Club

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Trip Reports

September 20 - South Branch of the AuSable

 | Published on 9/20/2011
We had planned a nice serene paddle from Steckert Bridge to Smith  Bridge on M-72.  It didn't turn out that way.  

The South Branch is a lovely stretch of river that flows through the Mason Tract, a sanctuary that has been donated to the state and is set aside as a natural area.  We had all been there before, though it was the first time that Norm had ever begun upstream at Paddle Brave Campground.  Both he and Fred managed to pick up a couple of items of trash, though it appeared that we got most of the stuff out of the river on our cleanup there earlier this summer.

As usual, Judy zoomed ahead, while the rest of us carried on in the rear.  Mike and Betty were lucky to have the shortest drive to the river, while Becky appreciated our perfect timing to watch the aeronautical show.  Tracie and I missed a few turns while driving to the start, due to a massive fog bank that covered the interior of the northern Lower Peninsula all morning. 





Fall colors appeared in several prime locations, but the most unusual part of the trip occurred between Chase Bridge and the Castle.  We heard lots of noise from helicopters along the left shore, just beyond the tree line.  So for a while, conversation was halting, since someone would begin a story, and then we'd have to wait until the noise subsided to continue the saga.  This went on for at least 45 minutes, until we were able to spot the reason for all the activity.



A huge helicopter was picking up whole trees that had been pulled out of the ground, roots and all, and was dropping them into the river, to be placed along the banks.  While we passed by, there must have been at least 20 or 30 trips to the river's edge.  The trees are supposedly placed along the shoreline to improve fish habitat.  It's unclear why the fish need more habitat, since there seems to be an abundance of downed trees that occur naturally on the South Branch.  There were three guys with waders and hardhats standing in the water (they had come in by canoe) who were directing the pilot in the "correct" placement of the new woody debris.  We had to hold up when we got to their location, at which point we finally got a close-up view of the entire operation.  It happened really fast, and with the sunny weather, I couldn't quite see what I was taking pictures of, but just snapped away, hoping something would come out.  By the way, I have toured our Coast Guard rescue helicopters close up, and this one that is used for construction and lumberjack work is a LOT bigger!



I'm not sure who pays for an operation like this, but I sure wish they had used some of the money to fix the landing at the Castle, which is WAY too high for anyone in kayaks or canoes to actually use.  It's really hard to climb out of a boat when the landing is at eye level!

So, we had sunshine, excitement and a terrific group for a unique late summer trip on one of the prettiest rivers in Michigan.  A good day!

Written by Lois