On the most perfect of Sunday mornings in April, what more could two outdoor junkies in “the 231” hope for than a pair of kayaks and an uninterrupted day on the most beautiful river in Michigan.
It’s 10:30am at Scheck’s Place and the Boardman is cruising along at its usual spring velocity. The promise of adventure is everywhere. One river-mile later, we’d spotted no less than a muskrat, a mink and a bobcat. An auspicious start to a glorious day of nature therapy!
The Boardman River truly is the best-kept secret in Northern Michigan. Not only does it offer a great experience for paddlers of all skill levels, it also provides a veritable Wikipedia of stories, from the epic to the truly bizarre.
Over the course of our five-hour (~20-mile) paddle, we traversed the history of northern Michigan from prehistoric coral reefs, to mile-high glaciers, to the eccentric pioneers of our rugged wilderness.
The Brown Bridge Bottomlands was a major highlight of the morning. How often does anyone get to paddle on the bottom of a once 191-acre pond, reborn into 2.5 miles of crystal clear, fast flowing water!
After grabbing a quick lunch at the Brown Bridge boat launch (and exchanging stories with our good friend Steve Largent) we hopped back on the River and paddled through the heart of the Boardman Valley. This magnificent stretch of river oscillates between seasonal homesteads and transcendent wilderness—ever reminding us of the delicate balance between humans and nature.
Several miles later the River takes a sharp bend north and gradually narrows, picking up velocity at every turn. Passing by the Beitner Road boat launch, we entered the Boardman Rapids, a one-mile stretch best enjoyed at high water—and what a ride it was! Cold, fast, and unforgettable.
At this point, with the Boardman and Sabin dams standing between the paddler and downtown Traverse City, most people bail out and carry their boats to the Lone Pine parking lot, but we are not most people.
The next mile of the trip took us through the bleak and highly contested remnants of Boardman Pond. Having basked in the beautifully restored Brown Bridge bottomlands just hours before, it was difficult not to lament this deeply scarred landscape.
But the wounds of Boardman Pond vanished quickly as we portaged over Cass Road and made our way into the south end of Sabin Pond. The word “idyllic” is a pale placeholder for the true experience. Our paddles competed only with the wind and waterfowl in breaking the mirrored surface of this heavenly landscape.
As our tired arms hoisted our kayaks ashore at Sabin Dam, we gazed back at a perfect Sunday and reflected upon all we had experienced. To paddle the Boardman is to enter into a world that belongs to no one, and to everyone. There are those who would seek to tame the river and claim it as their own, but when we dig down to the best within us, we find the blood in our veins and the flowing stream to be one, inseparable whole. We can no sooner arrest the river as we could stave off the passion in our hearts—and with the same results.
We are the Boardman.