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Paddlers warned to avoid bypass channel on Clinton River, near Yates

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 22, 2020

 A map on the CRWC website shows the Clinton River.

A map on the CRWC website shows the Clinton River.

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The Clinton River Watershed Council is warning people to avoid paddling the Clinton River between downtown Rochester and the Yates dam due to an issue with river flow.

Clinton River Watershed Council Watershed Planner Chris Bobryk said a small bypass channel formed upstream from the dam about two years ago, and now the river flow has completely moved to the bypass channel, leaving a dry riverbed immediately above and below the Yates dam.

“Several years ago … the river was acting like a natural river — forming the quickest route downstream. Over time, it started to erode some of that bank at a particular spot. Eventually, it did find the easiest path forward, so we’ve been working with a conglomerate of organizations — federal, state and local governments — to try and fix that problem,” he explained.

The Clinton River Watershed Council is currently working with Rochester and Rochester Hills; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Letica Corp. and the owners of Yates Cider Mill to devise a plan to close the cutoff channel. 

“Since the river is closed at the cutoff, the next appropriate takeout site upstream of that would be downtown Rochester. It’s a soft launch and it’s right after Rochester Road, so it’s a great marker for anybody paddling downstream. There’s a kayak rack there, so it’s a nice pathway there and you can go visit downtown Rochester,” Bobryk said.

The bypass channel is filled with “strainers,” or trees and branches that have fallen into the river, making it extremely dangerous, according to Bobryk.

Until the bypass channel is eliminated and flow is restored back toward the dam, first responders are urging people to avoid the section of the river between downtown Rochester and Yates altogether.

“This year we’ve had at least four different rescues in the Clinton River between Rochester and Rochester Hills, and over the last month we’ve had quite a bit of rain. It has swollen the river, and when it does that, the water becomes faster, with more current. Some people who may not be experienced will think that they can go out there, and, like the normal river, kind of meander down, but they’ll find themselves in an area of the river where the water is running much faster. There’s trees and brush that might be covered over in water and people can find themselves getting into trouble real quick,” Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said.

Cieslik said it’s important for anyone who’s planning to paddle the river to wear a personal floatation device, bring a cellphone in a waterproof case, never paddle alone, understand what their skill level is and check the CRWC website to make sure the stretches of river they plan to paddle on meet their level of expertise.

“Stretches of the Clinton River could vary from a very calm, relaxing trip down the river when the water level is low to very dangerous when the water level is high because of the speed and the turbulence and the submerged items,” he explained.

Bobryk said the river map for paddlers is available on the CRWC website.

“It provides locations of launches, and it even gives an indicator of the advancement, whether its advanced, basic or intermediate experience,” he said. 

The lower river, from Budd Park in Clinton Township downstream to Mount Clemens, is the best stretch for beginners, according to CRWC staff. The upper river in the Chain of Lakes area in Oakland County is also good for beginners, officials said.

In addition to being dangerous, the bypass channel serves as a migratory pathway for unwanted species, like the sea lamprey.

“We have a very prominent and very robust fishery throughout the Clinton River, but especially above Yates dam. So, sea lamprey are now able to have access to the upper stream,” Bobryk said.

CRWC officials said preliminary plans have been drawn up for a proposed solution for the bypass channel, and the partner organizations are currently seeking funds to block off the bypass channel and direct all flows back into the main river channel. Officials said all partners are dedicated to “repairing and enhancing this site as soon as possible.”

For more information, visit the CRWC at  https://www.crwc.org/recreation/paddling or call (248) 601-1280.

Call Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at (586) 498-1060.

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