River access site to be built at Szok Riverbend Preserve

Efforts are underway for the construction of a public river access site along the Chippewa River, which will serve as a much-needed connection for paddling enthusiasts in Isabella and Midland Counties. 

Szok Riverbend Preserve, located on East River Road about six miles west of Mt. Pleasant, is managed by the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy (CWC). Once construction is completed, the 3.4-acre property will have a small parking lot and a staircase with an observation deck providing easy access down to the river.

Mike LeValley, Executive Director of CWC, says that currently there is no formal access to the river between Island Park in Mt. Pleasant and Geneva Road in Midland County — a distance of about 24 river miles which would take about eight hours to paddle.

“For most people, that's just not what they want to spend their day doing. This location basically cuts that distance in half,” says LeValley.

The property was donated to CWC in 2019 with the intention to create a river access site by former Midland residents Peter and Cameron Szok in honor of Peter’s grandparents, Agnes and Stephen Szok.

“I really liked the idea of preserving natural space and providing public access to the river,” says Peter Szok. “My dad when he took us up north, we'd be like in Traverse City and look out the window and see all the lands on the lake that was almost all privately owned and there was no access to the public. Then he’d take us to a place like Cadillac where you’d see all the parks and trails along the river. So the donation is kind of given in that spirit.”

One of the funders for the project is the Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) which provided a $10,000 grant to CWC.

“The more access points that we can provide on the river and make it usable for people for folks to be able to start and stop at different points, I think the better for all of our communities to enjoy this amazing natural resource that we have,” says Sharon Mortensen, President & CEO of MACF.

LeValley says the project is currently undergoing bidding for construction, but they estimate the work will be completed in the late summer or early fall this year. For project updates, visit chippewawatershedconservancy.org or facebook.com/ChippewaWatershedConservancy.
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Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with experience working with nonprofits. In addition to her work with Epicenter, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring with her husband Erick and their Corgi, Nori. Contact editor@epicentermtpleasant.com or follow her on social media @lizfredendallphoto.