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Revisiting the Belle River

Five years ago, my friend Ekaterina drove on a bridge over the Belle River and got the irresistible urge to see where it led. I'm always up for an adventure, so we took a canoe out to explore. It was a great trip with many challenges. Low water levels, constant portages, eight-foot high logjams, stinging nettles, and leeches (!!). This week we were reminiscing and decided we needed to have another go at it, this time hoping to travel further.

We hoped for rain but weren't so lucky; the water levels this time around were probably just as low as the last trip. No problem. We had forethough and attached dragging ropes to the front of each of our boats and wore water shoes. I would have felt terrible putting my sea kayaks through this abuse, but the boats we used were up for it.

Incredibly, the entire trip only had one portage, at a gigantic beaver dam, I'd guess at least thirty feet wide. It was quite a ways to get around, and the walk took us past some of the beaver's planned additions: several truly massive trees partially gnawed. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo, but we did see a blue peddleboat beached on top of the middle of the dam. It would be quite a project to extract it.

To whoever cleared that stretch of river, thanks for your hard work!

There were quite a few presumably newer blockages, some limbos that may have been impossible with a higher water level, some logs to carry the boats over, and one freshly fallen tree still with all of its leaves that we were surprised to be able to pass through. By far the biggest challenge was the low water level.

We had some great wildlife sightings as well. Many deer, both on the banks and splashing through the river, and one each of a frog, baby turtle,and muskrat. Plenty of birds: herons, ducks, red-winged blackbirds, and a hawk. I especially enjoy the blue and green dragonflies. Their colors are so beautiful.

The water was clear enough that we saw tons of fish. Mostly tiny but some you could probably have for a meal. While I was filtering water, Ekaterina noticed that there were many piles of small stones, like they had been moved there intentionally. Reading about it, there is a type of minnow called a river chub that builds these rock nests in streams to raise their young. So cool to see! The National Park Service has a video of the fish in action, its amazing.

All in all, we made it about fifteen miles. We're planning next time to launch at the spot we took out and attempt to get all the way to the St. Clair River. Of course, we'll have to recover from this trip first, and cross our fingers for rain.

It's fun to mess around on rivers sometimes, but paddling on open water is a totally different experience. Today we're having our first Kayak Essentials course, which is very exciting! If you want to learn skills such as self and assisted rescues, refine your paddle strokes, and understand what goes into planning a safe kayaking trip, you can learn more at the above link.

Below are some photos from our trip. Check out the size of those trees the beavers are working on! You might notice we don't have life jackets on. Normally, I would always wear one, however this river is extremely shallow at this time of year; we felt lucky during the few mid-shin deep sections.


1 comment

1 Comment

Bobby Janssens
Bobby Janssens
Jun 10, 2020


Check out our Facebook page .. Memphis belle river watershed!

Volunteers of Memphis have teamed up to care for the river.

If you ever want to visit again, Braidwood Bridge to town has a nice clearing with no portage! About a 1.5hr trip. Also webber to big hand rd is nicely cleared and you get to travel through columbus park, thanks to a good friend. Have fun on the rivers!!

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