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May 7, 2014

Utica home to new Clinton River access point

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

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Utica home to new Clinton River access point
Amanda Priemer, an associate planner with Macomb County, kayaks out of the new Clinton River access point in Utica on Thursday, May 1.

UTICA — They call it Utica Landing, and it is a grassy section of land leading off of Auburn Road down to the Clinton River. A gravel lot is available for safe parking on the side of the road, the land levels off into a smooth entry into the water and a hitching post awaits paddlers wishing to stop into downtown Utica.

Officials held a dedication ceremony May 1, replete with the Utica High School marching band and a small fleet of kayakers who launched out of the new paddle park to nearby Heritage Park, where there is a handicap-accessible access point.

Located in the heart of downtown Utica, just west of the Utica Public Library and Memorial Park, the location is ideal for paddlers to check out the city’s restaurants and businesses.

The launch compliments Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel’s Blue Economy Initiative.

“The whole (initiative) is about water quality, water access and water attraction,” Hackel said. “This river is underutilized as a resource, not only for economic development, but for paddling opportunities.”

The reason it is underutilized, he said, is because of a lack of liveries and access points along the river.

“I’ve been on the Au Sable River and the Rifle River countless times, but coming here in Macomb County and paddling and canoeing on this river, they pale in comparison,” Hackel said.

The owner of the only canoe and kayak livery in Macomb County, Jerry Reis, provided interested takers with a kayak and life vest. Despite cool temperatures, cloudy skies and a quick current, several volunteers coasted down the river.

“They just finished this (launch) at the end of last fall,” Reis said. “We pull everybody out of (the Heritage Park launch) so they don’t go further because the river is not open past it; it’s against the law.”

His business, Clinton River Canoe & Kayak, provides a variety of courses and skill levels, including a nine-hour course from Squirrel Road and, more commonly, a two-hour trip starting at Ryan Road.

Christopher Pokorski, of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau and a Clinton Township resident, was one such taker, dressed in Crocs and a yellow life vest.

“I think it’s excellent for business — (paddlers) coming into the region looking for things to do. It’s great for local residents but also adds another element for visitors to participate in the downtown and enjoy the great waterway we have here,” Pokorski said.

The paddle park was made possible by a grant from ITC Holdings Corp. to the county’s planning department, whose services the city of Utica contracts.

“We’re very grateful that (Macomb County planning) thought of us. If somebody gives us free money, we’ll spend it, and we’ll spend it wisely,” Utica Mayor Jacqueline Noonan said.

Gerry Santoro, Macomb County’s program manager for land and water resources, said ITC gave him $10,000, which he used for Utica Landing and a yet unfinished Sterling Heights paddle park, in Dodge Park off of Riverland Road, whose dedication is set for Aug. 21.

Another $10,000 grant will go toward a Clinton Township paddle park in Budd Park and a bigger signage program, Santoro said.

For more information, contact the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development at (586) 469-5285.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.