A transplanted Texan's take on his adopted water wonderland and a float down the Little M
By Charles Chandler
My morning routine usually begins with the crew from the Weather Channel and a cup of strong black coffee. I watch the big weather picture that is now mostly covered in red. These attractive metrologists, appearing to be frustrated drama majors, carry on about southern tier heat domes, broken temperature records, approaching super cells and tornado warnings. Having chatted with my “baking and broiling” Houston family the previous night, I heard all about their weather worries. Will my air-conditioner last through another summer? Can I pay my utility bills? Will the power grid hold up?
This morning as I sipped my coffee and watched the weather forecasters, it was with gratitude and a sense of unearned grace that I don’t have to deal with that mess today. My gratitude is because 15 years ago my adventurist, Canadian-born wife and I retired and left Texas’s 100-mile-wide mega cities and repotted here in Newaygo County.
I recognize that summers in western Michigan can get a little warm, now and then. However, our summer focus in Newaygo County is pretty straight forward. It is WATER and our chosen recreational activity with water. It could be a sunset cruise on one of the many residential lakes; a picnic with the family and assorted dogs, followed by a snooze on one of the world-class Michigan beaches; or joining a group of friends and kayaking or tubing down the ever-popular Muskegon River. Around here the summer challenge is not hot weather but choosing your favorite bodies of water and associated recreational activities. That’s it! Our single summertime problem is that we must choose. Well maybe a couple of other things too, like did we bring enough ice, and for goodness sakes, is Kokx’s sweet corn ready yet?
After watching our local weather forecast for this week, our choices are firmed up. If we get a fair breeze, it will be sailing in our pocket-sized sailboat on Hardy Pond. If breezes are insufficient, then it will be kayaking the White River from Taylor’s Bridge to Pines Point campground. Kayaking is the current house favorite but sailing is gaining ground.
Last week I discovered a beautiful little Newaygo County River that was new to me, and it was love at first stroke of the paddle. On a beautiful cool morning, three seniors launched our watercraft of choice at West County Line Road and the Little Muskegon River. Paddling the Little Muskegon on that day was a serene experience. It had rained the night before and the river was up with a heavy stain. The current was respectable and demanded our attention in the tight bends, shallow rapids, and occasional bolder garden.
This little river valley is exceptional. So many shades of green with huge oaks, maples and improbably tall pines that stretched up into the blue Michigan sky. Gawking at these distracting giants often resulted in a reminder bump from some rock or woody debris. All along this river corridor wildflowers thrived in every spot of sunlight, and we were treated to a selection of songs from the abundant Red-eyed Vireos and unseen warblers. Occasionally we would round a bend and be surprised by a remarkably high bluff that towered over the lush riverside vegetation.
There are very few houses and no other launches or takeouts along this stretch of the river. We never saw another paddler, heard a noisy boombox nor the irritating whine of a jet ski. All too soon we reached the slow backwater as this outstanding Newaygo County River entered Croton Pond. I have paddled other Michigan rivers but none as peaceful and secluded as this stretch of the Little Muskegon. Many years ago, one of those handsome Frisbie men recommended that I should paddle the Little Muskegon. I so wish I had taken that good advice then.
The paddle from West County Line Road down to the river mouth at Croton Pond took about four hours, including a couple of 30-minute rest stops. With permission, we were able to take out at the private dock of generous riverside homeowners and this kindness negated the long paddle across open Croton Pond to the public launch. Big bonus!
If you take this trip, I highly recommend you have intermediate river paddling skills. There is limited roadside parking at West County Line Road bridge and if you put in there, you are committed until you reach Croton Pond.
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