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 Guests kayak along the Clinton River and see the progress that has been made to clean it up.

Guests kayak along the Clinton River and see the progress that has been made to clean it up.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Kayaking event highlights Clinton River revitalization

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 26, 2019

 Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel hosted “The River Runs Wild” Aug. 21 on the Clinton River at Heritage Park in Utica to reveal  the work that has been done to revitalize the Clinton River.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel hosted “The River Runs Wild” Aug. 21 on the Clinton River at Heritage Park in Utica to reveal the work that has been done to revitalize the Clinton River.

Photo by Deb Jacques


UTICA — Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel hosted a kayaking and canoeing event Aug. 21 at Heritage Park in Utica to highlight the progress being made in revitalizing the Clinton River.

The event, called “The River Runs Wild,” began with a press conference at Heritage Park, and then 50 invited attendees, including members of the media, launched kayaks and canoes into the river to take part in an 8-mile trip to Rotary Park in Sterling Heights to see the river’s progress.

During the trip, guests were able to see the results of the work that had been done, such as removing tires, garbage and more from the river. The Clinton River was once designated as one of the most polluted and unusable rivers in the state.

The mayor of Utica, Thom Dionne, attended the event and was amazed at all the work that has been done. He also enjoyed kayaking for the first time.

“The Clinton River Canoe & Kayak (business) does a great job for the city of Utica and Sterling Heights. They clear a lot of the debris and the trees that are fallen into the river, and they make a nice passable area for the folks that are using the river.

“The big thing for me that is really neat is that I’ve never kayaked before, and for me it’s an amazing experience because it’s such an enjoyable event. I just called my wife a little while ago and told her that we’re going to kayak this weekend, and we’ve never done it before. I was under the impression that you needed a certain amount of skill or to be super athletic or something to that effect, but really kayaking is for everyone. We have a great spot in Utica, and I encourage our residents to come out and take advantage of this amazing resource that we have,” Dionne said.

“I’m really grateful that Executive Hackel gave me the opportunity to bring awareness to the river,” he added.

To date, $30 million has been spent on projects to restore the river’s vitality.

According to a press release, in the 1970s, a fish survey identified no substantial fish resources in the Clinton River. In 1972, the river was identified as an area of concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This led to the creation of the Clinton River Remedial Action Plan, which directed the elimination of combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows, stormwater runoff, Superfund waste sites and contaminated sediments. It also put plans in place for spill notification, habitat restoration, and the elimination of illicit connections and failing septic systems.

Clinton Township, Fraser, Warren and Mount Clemens have since made substantial improvements to sanitary sewer systems that will reduce or eliminate sewage discharges.

Additional work began in 2011, when Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding became available for watershed cleanup and restoration.

“When I first started as county executive, I started getting a lot of information from people about the Clinton River. One of the things I got: a lot of serious interest throughout Macomb County, people who have a lot of interest in outdoor recreation saying we need to do something about the Clinton River. So I got the opportunity to actually get on the river and kayak, so I started over there by Yates (Cider Mill) and came through. I’m going to be honest with you — some of it was an eye-opener for me. Kind of a love-hate situation. I could not believe I was on the river in Macomb County; it felt like you were some place up north,” said Hackel.

“There was a lot of dumping going on in this river, so when you think about this river, it was considered a benefit, why? Because as we started to migrate north and people started to build, we really kind of took it for granted. We didn’t think about it. Pollution was the solution. They were literally dumping actually into this river. So with that being said, we had to figure out how we bring our partners together from other members of the community and other organizations, even government entities, to figure out how do we resolve this and say, ‘What do we need to do?’”

In recent years, the waterway has rebounded thanks to an infusion of grant funds and the efforts of the Blue Economy initiative and many local organizations. Thousands of kayaks and canoes already navigate its twists and turns on an annual basis.

“Thanks to grant funds, the efforts of many local organizations and the Blue Economy program, the river has transformed from one that had very high levels of pollution and blockages to one that is beautiful and increasingly restored,” said Hackel. “It is a now a destination for our community and an area accessible for recreation.”

With the revitalization, there has been a lot improvement to the river.

According to the press release, a 2008 assessment of the Clinton River stated that the waterway would never be a valuable recreational resource. This was due to large amounts of debris, garbage and logjams. In fact, in 2010, more than 100 large logjams were identified along the river.

Since 2014, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding totaling more than $14 million has enabled eight projects around habitat and water quality improvements. This includes the removal of 30 logjams and the restoration of riverbanks in the Utica and Sterling Heights sections of the river during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

The cleanup and ongoing efforts to keep the river clear opened the waterway for recreation. The Clinton River is now a paddling destination with both challenging and family-friendly routes along the 32 miles of waterway in Macomb County.

There are now nine access points connecting six communities, including Ryan Road in Shelby Township, downtown Utica, Heritage Park in Utica, North Clinton River Park in Sterling Heights, Rotary Park in Sterling Heights, Budd Park in Clinton Township, Shadyside Park in Mount Clemens, MacArthur Park in Mount Clemens and Harley Ensign Memorial Boating Access Site in Harrison Township.

Four of these points are universally accessible and designed to be used independently by people of all ages and abilities. It has cost $500,000 to install and maintain these points.

Hackel said there is a lot more work to be done. There are plans to increase the number of launches.

“As far as we know, Macomb County’s Clinton River is one of the first water trails in the state to be completely and universally accessible,” he said. “But we hope to add more launches. So in the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing more about a competitive grant for our local communities. This will be an extension of our bicentennial and FCA legacy gift, and we’re thrilled to share more details soon.”

For more information on the Clinton River, visit living.macomb