By Charles Chandler
Part one: The voyage of discovery
On Columbus Day afternoon a group of local fun-loving kayakers gathered along the White River at the Flowing Wells Park in White Cloud. This meetup was to celebrate and publicize a recently opened 30-mile water trail that kayakers can now access to paddle from White Cloud on down to Hesperia.
This motley crew included Julie Burrell “Right Place” Business Development Coordinator for Newaygo County. Scott Rumsey, Hesperia businessman and President of Hesperia Chamber of Commerce, Lora Kalkofen City Manager for White Cloud, White Cloudian and kayaker Margie Green, Colleen Lynema, Executive Director of River Country Chamber of Commerce, Rick Lynema, sportsman and kayaker, Mark Heying, local sportsman and author, Dianne Taylor-Chandler, kayaker and Flyfisher person, Keith Payne, local, businessman, entrepreneur and adventurer, Darcy Payne, County employee, avid runner and sports person and the mildly hobbled N3 correspondent.
These courageous paddlers were bound (weather and an supply of mosquito spray permitting) for another meetup and some celebratory refreshments at the Gazebo on the Island in the Hesperia Mill Pond.
This event concluded one chapter in an unfinished story that began with an effort to brand and market White Cloud as a recreation destination. As those colorful banners displayed street side states, “White Cloud is a trail town with a trail for every season.” These trails include the North Country National Scenic and the White Cloud connector trails a pair of pristine pathways used by local and passing through hikers, winter snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
In addition to foot trails, there is the Diamond 3 snowmobile trail and other routes for ATVs. The latest addition to the local trail system is a water trail on the White River that begins at the launch in White Cloud Rotary Park and continues for about four miles downriver to the takeout at Flowing Wells Park. After meeting some stiff requirements, that section of the river was recently designated as a State of Michigan blue water trail.
This State designation created some online publicity and an uptick in paddlers on this beautiful stretch of the White. It also helped kayakers recognize and others to remember that there is another river between the big Muskegon and the world-renowned Pere Marquette. This State designation also brought a well-anticipated challenge. After paddlers have made the trip through this beautiful and feisty stretch or river running between the two White Cloud Parks they want more. As sportsmen, recreational fans or adrenalin junkies that have had a pleasant or screaming scared almost to death experience we want more. It is who we are.
The problem had been that there was no more. The water trail and fun ends when you paddled under the snowmobile bridge and stopped at the take-out at Flowing Wells Park. If some brave or uninformed paddler continued past that take out they would go straight into the heart of paddling darkness and all who do so live to regret it. The personal horror stories are the same whether it is from old timers that tried it when they were young , robust Michiganders, recent area newcomers or the unaware.
After you paddle under the Echo Drive bridge until you reach the N. Baldwin Ave bridge, about eight miles downstream, you would have spent more time out of your canoe or kayak than in it. You would have portaged around logs and other large woody debris dragging your watercraft up steep banks, through the muck, poison ivy, stinging nettles, briers, and leeches and back into the river. Then after a short paddle do it all over again.
Adam and Audrey Rynberg, two experienced kayakers and riverside residents took the challenge and reported they made about 80 portages in those eight miles. Mark Heying a local Base Line Rd resident recalls that around midnight one night he heard voices on the river and had to rescue two unfortunate and very exhausted kayakers that had started late in the day and only made about four of the eight miles.
He also mentioned that they did not have a flashlight.
There has been growing pressure from a variety of sources to address this impassable section of the river. There were concerns for the safety of unaware kayakers that ventured past the take out at Flowing Wells, streamside landowners and kayakers like Mark Heying and the Rynbergs who wanted to be able to use the river that ran along their property.
Given the growing popularity of kayaking others began to see the recreational opportunity and economic benefits of developing a new water trail between White Cloud and Hesperia. And then there are the visionaries, the entrepreneurs and dreamers who suggested “Why stop at Hesperia? Why can’t we paddle from White Cloud to Whitehall? The river runs all the way to Lake Michigan, doesn’t it?”
The answer is yes but first things first. When the old-timers and local residents were asked if developing a water trail down to Hesperia had been tried before the answers were all over the place starting with “not that I ever heard of, are you nuts, too much work,” and “don’t do it you will ruin everything.”
Some said that the White will become a party river like the Muskegon, or that the landowners won’t let you, or it can’t be done because the White is a Federal river.
Most of these comments and opinions were based on inaccurate information and will be addressed in the next two parts of this series. The short answer is yes, you can develop a water trail for kayak paddlers between White Cloud and Hesperia. It was done over this past summer by the White River Kayaker Coalition, an informal group of committed people that included Rick Lynema, Adam Rynberg, Mark Heying, Mike Anderson, Perry Anderson, and this N3 Correspondent. Rick, Mark, and Adam did the heavy lifting on this project and their efforts were truly appreciated.
The afternoon voyage of discovery from Fitzgerald Ave to Hesperia was rewarding and informative to those that had not paddled this section. The weather was perfect and the mosquito repellant held out. Darcy Payne and Near North Now Editor Ken DeLaat were waiting at the Island in the Hesperia Mill Pond as all paddle in. After photo ops, Darcy provided refreshing cold apple cider and delicious greasy cake donuts for the Motley crew. Perfect fare for hungry paddlers.
Stay tuned for additional commentary and the next chapter of the story about the White, Newaygo County’s forgotten river.
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