By Mike Terrell
It seemed like a long winter this year, and Im looking forward to some
warm weather outdoor activity. Paddling Northern Michigan rivers and
cycling -- especially mountain biking -- are a couple of my favorite
Combining them offers a chance for a good workout, but more importantly,
it gives you a lot of flexibility for river paddling. Spotting a
mountain bike (or vice-versa, your car) downriver means you dont have to
rely on a group outing or try to match schedules with others when you want
to go paddling, and it allows you to go on the spur of the moment.
Sometimes when you and a group have planned an outing a week or so ahead,
the weather doesnt cooperate. Being able to go on the spur of a moment
allows you to take advantage of that sunny day. Just throw your bike and
kayak or canoe on the vehicle and go.
One of my favorite rivers for this type of activity is the Boardman River,
because it allows several choices for pedal and paddle opportunities.
Paddling the upper portion from The Forks (with its nice put-in just a
half-mile south of Supply Road) down to Shecks Forest Campground offers
about a four-mile float through a valley of high banks and heavily
forested terrain with few cottages. The river ranges in size from 20 to
40 feet in width with a moderate to quick current. I never get tired of
paddling this section.
Summer, however, can be busy with rental canoes and tubes from Ranch
Rudolf. That time of year, with long daylight hours, I often go after
four in the afternoon. Thats the last run for the Ranch, and after five
or six you will often find deer coming down to the river for a drink. If
you are quiet it isnt hard to slip up on them. Ive floated around a
corner and been almost face-to-face with a group of whitetails.
Brown Bridge Road, which runs between Shecks Place and The Forks, is a
dirt road and you will need a mountain bike to get back to your car,
especially in summer when the surface is sandier and less hard packed.
Its about a five to six mile bike ride with some pretty sections right
along the river.
Another section of the river that offers a good opportunity for using your
bike to spot your vehicle utilizes River Road and a short portion of Brown
Bridge Road. Here you put in just below the dam and paddle down to
Shumsky Road public access, about a six-mile float. Or you can paddle all
the way to Beitner Road with a good public access and small roadside
park. Thats about another four miles as the river flows -- a 10-mile
The pedaling distance from the parking lot for the put-in below the dam is
just a little over four miles to Shumsky, and a little over six miles to
the Beitner Road park. River Road is all paved. Theres only a very
short portion of Brown Bridge Road, normally hard surfaced dirt that you
pass over. You can use a road bike.
There are several stretches of undeveloped land along this portion of the
Boardman, but cottages, homes and private bridges crossing the river are
frequent through this 10 mile float. The landscape is mostly heavily
forested with occasional meadows and farmlands. High banks are
interspersed throughout the trip.
Despite the homesteads, which pass quickly, its a pretty and interesting
section of river. Ive had deer splash in front of me and have frequently
spotted eagles along this section.
For those that like a longer paddle you can go across Boardman Pond and
take out at the dam, which is a trip of around 12.5 miles; about a
five-hour float. You could also take out at Lone Pine on the right side
of the river before entering the pond. Theres a steep stairway to
negotiate, but the climb from the pond at the end isnt easy either.
If you just want to shoot the Beitner Rapids, which you pass through right
after paddling under the bridge on Keystone Road, the best place to take
out is just before the footbridge crossing the river. Its about a
100-yard carry back to the parking lot. The footbridge comes up around a
sharp bend in the river shortly after exiting the rapids.
Using a bicycle for spotting your vehicle is easy. The distance is about
the same using River Road to get to the roadside park on Beitner or the
parking lot off Keystone for the footbridge; a little over six miles from
the Brown Bridge Dam put-in. Extending the float on through Boardman Pond
adds another 1.7 miles to your bicycling. The parking lot is just off
Cass Road after crossing Sabin Dam.
The rapids are rated a Class II but are pretty straightforward. For
experienced paddlers they are wild, wet and fun on a hot summer day. They
wont find them difficult. Beginning paddlers will have trouble with
them. The run of rapids is about a half-mile long, one after the other
with little chance to regroup before hitting the next set.
Out of all these possibilities my favorite pedal/paddle combo is the upper
stretch of river from The Forks to Shecks. The river seems more remote
and so does the bicycling.