By Mike Terrell
With a whoop and shout, one-by-one, six paddlers took turns easing
over a two-foot drop on the Sturgeon River. It was an old dam site
that had been removed years ago. Sizeable standing waves, which you
had to negotiate, waited at the bottom of the drop.
This occurs within the first half-hour down the river after launching
from Lumbermens Park in downtown Wolverine. A fast, feisty river,
the Sturgeon quickly establishes its character with the dam drop.
The Sturgeon is one of the fastest if not the fastest flowing
streams in the Lower Peninsula. Lots of tight bends with fallen trees
and sweepers, occasional narrow passages between bushel-basket-sized
boulders, submerged trees and fast riffles with standing waves, make
it one of the most challenging paddles in Northern Michigan. It drops
on the average 14 feet per mile from beginning to end as it flows
north to Burt Lake. Its one of the few north-flowing rivers in the
Its more than a handful for novice paddlers. You need at least basic
paddling skills to negotiate the many hazards you encounter. The
liveries that service the river clear a path through downed trees, but
the swift current tries to sweep you into the obstacles and leaves you
precious little time to decide on a course.
Jerry Dennis, in his book, Canoeing Michigan Rivers, says, The
swift current combined with tight turns, leaning trees and occasional
obstructions make it a river not recommended for absolute beginners.
That doesnt mean the river doesnt draw its share of beginning
paddlers, according to Jon Henley, owner of Henleys Canoe and Kayak
Livery, located in Wolverine.
Its a popular river, especially on hot summer weekends, and we get
our share of people that probably shouldnt be paddling that want to
do it anyway. They want to have fun and dont mind getting wet. We
warn them about the hazards, but still they want to go.
The stretch of river south of Wolverine, from Trowbridge Road access
north to the village park, is an easier section of river to paddle,
according to Henley.
Thats a nice stretch of river below Wolverine, and it isnt as hard
or fast as the river north of town. Its about a two-hour trip back
to the livery. Thats where I try to send the real beginners.
Henley does routine cleanups along the river, because the frequent
dumping of canoes and kayaks during a downstream trip can leave refuse
strewn along river banks and stuck in streamers.
Its part of the cost of doing business, he laughed. I moved up
here with my family years ago because of the clean environment. I
want to make sure it stays that way. This is one of the most
beautiful rivers that Ive seen. Its so pristine.
The Sturgeon, also considered a premier trout stream, is as beautiful
as it is challenging. But, sometimes its hard to see the beauty,
because you have to pay such close attention to the river and your
course. It remains about 30 to 50 feet wide through most of the river
north of Wolverine. Quick, narrow passages around and through
obstacles can be thrown at you on a moments notice as you round a bend
in the river. It keeps it fun and exciting.
The river alternates winding through dark cedar forests and bright,
open meadows with waving grasses and wildflowers. Much of the river
meanders through state forest. There are few obtrusive cottages along
the way until you get near the town of Indian River. The spring-fed
river, whose headwaters begin near Gaylord, is a little over 40 miles
in length, but only the last 16 or so miles from Trowbridge Road
where it crosses below I-75 to Burt Lake are considered navigable.
Our small group of Traverse Area Paddle Club paddlers did an 11-mile
section north from the township park to the Fisher Woods Road access
site. It took us a little over four hours with a stop for lunch along
the river. It was a fun day spent on a feisty little river that likes
to give as much as it takes.
Weekends can be busy with tubers, especially from the White Road
Bridge access north to Indian River. One of our group said they had
encountered as many as 75 tubes through this two-mile stretch a few
summers ago. It was a group an Indian River outfitter had put into
the river; talk about a log er, tube jam.
Henleys will spot your vehicle if you have your own watercraft. For
more information on canoe and kayak rental rates and trips, call
231-525-9994 or log onto www.henleysrentals.com. Big Bear Adventures,
located in Indian River, is another outfitter servicing the Sturgeon
River. They can be reached at 231-238-8181 or by logging onto
If you are looking for like-minded people that love to do river
floats, the Traverse Area Paddle Club, on average, will have over 150
trips scheduled on area rivers and lakes throughout the paddling
months of April through October. Check them out at
www.traverseareapaddleclub.org. Membership is only $15 individual or
$25 for a family.