Near the top of Michigan's lower peninsula there is a fan-like array of navigable rivers, well known to paddlers, offering a variety of paddling challenges. The Ocqueoc River runs north from the small town of Millersburg to the Ocqueoc Falls and then on to Lake Huron.
In 2007, my California paddling buddy Don Potter and I took on the challenge of paddling the Manistee River from its source north of Grayling to its end on Lake Michigan, a distance of 165 miles. It was quite an adventure, taking 6 days, hauling gear for riverbank camping, and portaging around two damns. We made the trek during July when there was a good water level and the only annoyance was occasional biting flies (black and deer).
According to Don, the 2010 paddling trek would be quite different. Instead of a long paddle down one river, this one would involve one-day paddles down six of Michigan's fastest rivers. Because of their proximity to each other, the plan was to establish base camps from which we could drive to the rivers. This had the advantage of allowing us to canoe without hauling our camping gear. The plan was for an August trip, but as it turned out, Dons wife Marilyn had back surgery so the trip was postponed until September. September was arguably more desirable because the summer vacation season was over and the parks were empty. Moreover, there was no heat to contend with and no annoying insects. Our only minor concern was the water level in the rivers because late summer had been dry.
Monday morning we packed our soggy tents and moved to the Ocqueoc (OCK-eee-OCK) Falls Campgrounds. We were the only occupants other than chipmunks. A lot of chipmunks. From there we were going to paddle the Ocqueoc River and Black River.
We started with the Ocqueoc River in the small town of Millersburg. Our takeout was our campsite on the river. Before coming to Ocqueoc we had decided to test our manhood by canoeing the Black River upriver and then float back to the put-in. We knew that it would be hard, so we opted to first paddle the Ocqueoc, a presumably easy six miles.
The paddling guide described the Ocqueoc as the fastest of the rivers on our agenda and the leg we were doing was only six miles so our expectation was that it would take no more than 1 1/2 hours. Wrong. Double wrong.
What we didnt factor in was low water that turned a fast six miles into a long, maddening slog. At the beginning of our paddle we passed several cottages where the owners had built rock damns across the river to create pools in front of their properties. At low water these damns stuck out of the water and became barriers for paddlers. We were in and out of the canoe crossing over them. Then we hit an endless series of riffles and rapids too shallow to float even an empty canoe. We spent the next three hours in and out of the canoe crossing ponds and lining and tracking her down rapids.
Four hours after put-in we arrived at the campsite exhausted and wet, and our once shiny elegant canoe was now a battle-scarred river warrior. The Ocqueoc may be an outstanding paddle at high water but at low water she is a man-hating bitch.
That evening we walked across the road to the Ocqueoc Falls. They are the only falls in Michigans lower peninsula and clearly worth a visit. Located on a scenic bend in the river, the falls consist of numerous descending solid-stone terraces from one to four feet high. Although not runable by canoe, experienced kayakers would enjoy the run.
That night Don prepared a tuna fish mac n cheese casserole. I was amazed that you could buy such an odd dish.
"Canoeing Michigan Rivers" by Jerry Dennis