Rivers present different challenges to kayakers & canoers in Midland County

Looking out at the Midland Tridge that straddles the Chippewa and Tittabawassee rivers from the Farmer’s Market, Glenn Isenhart, owner of Ike’s Mobile Kayak Rentals of Midland, expressed recently a thought that has been on the tip of many tongues in mid-Michigan this July. 
Glenn Isenhart is the owner of Ike's Mobile Kayak Rentals.
“This is the lowest I’ve seen it the 13 years since I’ve come home from California,” he said as he adjusted the kayaks on his trailer. He had loaded them after kayakers had already returned from their excursion on this sunny afternoon with temperatures in the 70s. A perfect day for kayaking, make that an afternoon on this day. 

In the morning, it was overcast and raining, replenishing the dry ground. Later in the day, when Isenhart provided canoes and assistance for the LEAP program at Kiwassee Lake in Stratford Woods Park on Midland’s east side, he notes that the showers that night, were ‘not in the itinerary.” Still the participants paddled on, and Isenhart did too. “That fills my heart,” he says. 

At the Tittabawassee River, it was a mid-summer, marbled model - light brown where the sun’s rays hit bottom and reflected the color of the mud back to the top, a little darker where it was deeper when they couldn't get to the bottom, and a dark-brown where shadows overhung the banks.  The U.S. Coast Guard depth reading nearby averaged 9 ½ feet, a bit lower than normal because of the lack of recent rain. 

Midland's Tridge is a landmark to reach after an afternoon on the rivers.
Isenhart smiles during the conversation, an optimistic smile, because the bulk of his rentals aren’t to people who yearn for the dose of adrenalin that the whitewater brings in many mountain rivers. 

Ike’s and other businesses that help provide individual and group forays on the mid-Michigan rivers that flow in tandem with the seasons, rely on families and business groups to survive, the first timers and the less experienced, those interested in being among friends for a good afternoon or longer. Stacie Scherman is the owner of Nor' East Outdoors.

Nor’east Outdoors owner Stacie Scherman of Midland agrees. Now in her second year here, and third overall after buying Indian River Brasswind Landing Adventure and Paddlesports, two hours to the north, said there is a lot of interest here. 

In the summer, she said, many of the customers in Midland are the “first-time paddlers, or youth who are learning” though family, friends and coworkers. 
Later in the fall, it’s those who will seek a river’s ability to provide a quieter color tour. 

Jenn Kirts, director of programs for the Chippewa Nature Center, said the colors appear more vivid along the banks of the rivers and the slower waters contribute to a great fall experience.  
Jenn Kirts is the director of programs for the Chippewa Nature Center.
And the infrastructure here, particularly of late, allows those of any ability to try the experience, Both Ike’s and Nor’east Outdoors use those facilities. The City of Midland provides a website, that gives addresses and information about the accessible launches, at the Tridge, Nature Center and Sanford Lake.

On the completion of the structures a decade ago the city posted this entry: “Three recently completed kayak /canoe launches, located at the Tridge in downtown Midland, Chippewa Nature Center and Sanford Lake Park, will allow universal access to our local waterways...All three launches will be open annually from May 1 through Oct.15 (weather permitting), with the hours of operation unique to each site.”  
Wheelchair users can access the kayaks through accessible launches.
Wheelchair users, those restricted by hip and knee replacements, back injuries, limited carrying ability, trouble with balance, difficulty getting in and out of a watercraft and even those who would just appreciate an easier smoother access point, rather than trying to enter from a steep slope. 

The rental companies can access the rivers through the sites mentioned, and at the boat launches along the Tittabawassee at Riverside/Golfside Park, or at the Caldwell Boat Launch on South Saginaw Road. 

Other private launches exist throughout the county, Scherman said, but some are limited to those who can access them. The old Homer Township Fire Department property has a nice parking lot but it is steep to get down to the river. Kirts said that the CNC site is accessible and updated. 

Kayakers and canoeists need to be flexible as the seasons change, Kirts said, quick wicking clothes, an extra set in the dry compartment, and a light jacket might be what is needed then. 

Isenhart says the area's rivers are great throughout the season for learning, and there are plenty of websites to go to for information, including best color info. Kirts said the CNC has programs that use their own canoes and the Ike’s Mobile and Nor’east Outdoors use the Chippewa-based launch. 

The companies and CNC offer training for the inexperienced in canoeing and kayaking, and other paddle sports. Also, Ike’s and Nor’east will pick up kayakers at the end of the trip and return them to the drop-off spot. 

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at ralphewirtz@gmail.com.