Macomb boat launch project promises better access to Clinton River, Lake St. Clair

Like many of the anglers who frequent Lake St. Clair, Lucas Pawlosky is quite familiar with the Clinton River Spillway.

Pawlosky, a Lake Orion resident, works as a wireman with DTE, but in his off time he's an avid fishing enthusiast who regularly posts outdoor-related social media content to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube under the banner of The Outdoor Conquest. And he's done plenty of fishing at the Spillway, which is also known asLucas Pawlosky shows off a fish he's caught. (Photo courtesy of Lucas Pawlosky) the Clinton River Cut-Off Canal.

Located in Macomb County, the Spillway is a 2.5-mile-long artificial waterway that connects the Clinton River with Lake St. Clair. The U.S. Corps of Army Engineers built it in the late 1950s and early 1960s to help control flooding in Mount Clemens, Clinton Township, and Harrison Township. The 80-foot wide channel runs southeast from an overflow weir at Gratiot Avenue in Mt. Clemens and allows water to flow out into Lake St. Clair in Harrison Township. In 2019, The Macomb County Department of Public Works completed a project to enhance fish and wildlife habitats along the canal using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding.

From Pawalsky's point of view, it's a "unique spot" where anglers can find a great variety of different fish. 

"There's everything in there, especially in the fall," says Pawlosky. "I've seen people catch a walleye on muskie lures, a big walleye seven-pounder. Everything in that lake is always following the bait fish at that time of year. They like to be close to that Spillway, just because there's a lot of nutrients coming out of it."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Spillway is home to 35 different species of fish, with the emerald shiner, spottail shiner, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, and brook silverside being some of the more common ones encountered there. Being a muddy runoff channel also makes it a prime space for bottom feeders like carp and catfish. 

While Pawlosky typically fishes along the shoreline of the Spillway, this year he's got a different method in mind; one that involves a kayak.

"When I fish there I specifically go for muskie, and that's going to be in the fall," he says. "My goal this year is to hook into one on a kayak and hopefully I can make that happen and capture it on film."

A view from the shoreline of the Clinton River Spillway.
Building better boat access

Despite being a popular spot for anglers like Pawlosky, access to the Spillway has been somewhat limited this year due to the current closure of the Clinton-River Cut-Off (CRCO) Boat Launch (also known as the "Crocker" Launch), which is operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Located near Lake St. Clair on Jefferson Avenue in Harrison Township, it's one of the largest state-owned public access boat launch sites on Lake St. Clair. But it's been closed down for about a year-and-a-half due to a construction project that involves relocating the launch and creating expanded site amenities.

According to Kristen Bennett, a development unit manager with the Michigan DNR, the project is meant to address problems with silt and muck constantly clogging up the original site and causing shutdowns.

"Historically the DNR would have to go out five to ten times a year, which would cause closures, to dredge out the muck, bring it out of the water, and dispose of it properly, so that boaters can still get into the water."

The project is the result of a nearby marina deciding to sell a piece of property to the state, which allowed the agency to move the launch away from the area where muck tends to gather. The new site sits closer to a channelized area of the canal that the DNR has studied and believes should resolve the issue.

The launch lanes at the new boat launch will be slightly wider than the original to give boats a little more maneuvering room. It will also have expanded parking and access for kayaks and canoes. Like the original site, it will also feature public restrooms.

Both the boat launch and the parking lot have been designed with accessibility in mind. 

"I think [visitors] will find it is very easy to maneuver around. And there are lots of parking spaces to get on and off.  We've really thought hard about how to eliminate as many backups as possible out on the main road."

While the current construction is a bit of a challenge for boat users who want to use the Spillway,  Harrison Township Supervisor Ken Verkest is enthusiastic about the new site bringing new amenities and more consistent access to the Clinton River and St. Clair.

"I do believe it's good for the region, for the state, and certainly for Harrison Township," he says. "Lake St. Clair is a destination. People from all over the country come there [to fish]. It definitely has an economic impact."

The construction of the new boat launch has not been without its difficulties. Work has been delayed more than expected, due to issues like a broken drill and challenges with the soil. 

Work is still underway on the CRCO boat launch.
At this point, however, work is nearly finished, with the last element being the installation of a concrete boat ramp. According to Beckett, the Michigan DNR hopes to have the project completed by October, if not sooner. 

In the meantime, boat users are asked to stay away from the CRCO Boat Launch and instead make use of local alternatives, including the state-run Harley Ensign and Selfridge boat launches,  Lake St. Clair Metropark. 

Looking ahead, though, Pawlosky is definitely looking forward to the opening of the new boat launch.

"I think it's great," he says. "I kayaked from [Lake St. Clair Metropark] all the way to the Clinton River Cut-Off last fall, but I was unsuccessful [at catching muskie]. I feel if I had more time and a shorter run across the lake with a kayak, I could spend more time in there casting."

All photos by David Lewinski, unless otherwise noted.

The Macomb Parks & Trails series seeks to capture the story of the outdoor recreation, greenspace, placemaking, and emerging outdoor assets that are shaping Macomb County's future. It's made possible with funding from Macomb County.
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Read more articles by David Sands.