Area offers National Scenic Rivers galore

BALDWIN – It all began here in 1979 when a U.S. Congressman offered as bill to create a national scenic river designation for the historic Pere Marquette River. (The scenic portion of the river is a 66 mile stretch from the junction of the Middle and Little South Branches east of Baldwin to the Old Highway 31 Bridge.  The Natural River designation includes the main stem and major tributaries.)

Not all that popular an idea locally at first, evoking a lot of local opposition to having a layer of federal oversight and zoning added to the river’s use at that time, it has since been proven to be popular with riparians (many whom originally opposed its zoning restrictions) for the layer of protection of property values that resulted over time.

At first, many members of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council were against the act; but since that addition to the federal program, many PMWC members and other riparians are now among the most supportive of the river’s National Scenic River designation.

If the Pere Marquette was the first stream in Michigan to be named a “Scenic” river under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, it wasn’t the only one to be so named. Since the PM’s addition 33 years ago, other rivers in our region have now come under similar designation as “Scenic” rivers.

The Pine River National Scenic River came into being in 1992. The lower 26-miles of the Pine River provides an outstanding recreation experience for lower Michigan, supporting quality opportunities for a diversity of recreation activities in a relatively undeveloped setting.

Canoeing and kayaking are the primary activities on this river, with much of the appeal being the fast water and light rapids. The Pine River has a river gradient of 7 percent and offers the fastest average flow of any river in Lower Michigan.

The forested flanks that shade the cool water stream is one of the most outstanding attributes of the river. The designated portion of the river contains a unique riparian landform with its deeply cut river channel and high, exposed sand banks. It has been described as floating down a forested canyon.

Adding to the “scenic” feel of the river are the diverse tree species which vary from cedar-hemlock, ash, elm, sugar and red maple, and basswood in the lowland portions to mixed oak, pine and aspen in the upland areas. Small openings found throughout the corridor provide habitat diversity for many species of wildlife; in autumn, the forested river corridor is one of the most colorful places to attract human “leaf peepers.”

The stretch of the Manistee River between Tippy Dam and the M-55 Bridge was designated as the Manistee River National Recreational River in 1996. This part of the lengthy river is wide, with steep banks and sharp bends; it moves with a swift current past high banks and serpentine bends.

The river’s corridor supports a wide variety of recreational activities throughout the year. This includes hiking on the North Country National Scenic Trail and Manistee River Trail. A suspension foot bridge allows hikers to walk over the wide Manistee near the junction of the North Country trail and the Manistee River Trail. It is called the “Little Mac” bridge because of its tower construction that reminds many of the big Mackinac Bridge.

In the fall, hunters come from all over to take advantage of the abundant white-tailed deer, upland game bird and waterfowl hunting available along the river.

Anglers are drawn here by the Manistee’s annual salmon and steelhead runs, as well as brown trout, smallmouth bass and walleye fishing.  Late summer to fall’s Salmon season brings runs of large Chinook salmon to this nationally noted fishing destination.

The Manistee’s backwater bayous, extensive riparian areas and mature forest communities provide a mix of habitat for a diverse number of wildlife species.  (Birders come to the lower Manistee River as it is noted as home to an extensive and least disturbed remnant of true red-shouldered hawk habitat in the state.)

When it comes to great National Scenic Rivers, West-Northwest Lower Michigan holds three of the finest in Michigan and the Midwest. Explore them this year in all seasons for a taste of the North Country wilds close to home.

The Huron-Manistee National Forest contributed to this article.