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Parks official: Use caution on Clinton River this summer

By: Eric Czarnik, Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 27, 2016

 Jerry Reis, right, paddles a kayak alongside Macomb County Program Manager of Land and Water Resources Gerard Santoro.

Jerry Reis, right, paddles a kayak alongside Macomb County Program Manager of Land and Water Resources Gerard Santoro.

File photo by Sean Work

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STERLING HEIGHTS — Change is coming to part of the Clinton River this year, and kayakers, fishers and others who use the waterway for recreation should keep the impact in mind, according to city officials.

Last year, the Sterling Heights City Council agreed to a plan with Utica to secure $4.5 million in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant money — with no local matching funds needed — for restoration and cleanup improvements to an estimated 9-mile portion of the Clinton River.

Those efforts include natural habitat restoration, bank erosion prevention, removal of river logjams and control of invasive species.

The city recently agreed to spend a chunk of the EPA grant money toward the Clinton River Corridor Habitat Restoration Project. On May 4, the City Council approved, as part of the consent agenda, spending $3.3 million of the grant money and awarding a habitat restoration work contract to Livonia-based Anglin Civil LLC.

“Project construction is anticipated to commence in June, 2016,” a related April 28 city memo states. “Due to the scope of work, it may be necessary to temporarily close portions of the Dodge Park path and Clinton River while work is being performed.”

City officials have celebrated the grant, and they hope to make the Clinton River a “placemaking” attraction in their 2030 Visioning plan.

Parks and Recreation Director Kyle Langlois said he expects some of that Clinton River work to begin soon in Sterling Heights, particularly with logjam removal and the building of a new bridge crossing.

Langlois said some fishers and some kayakers are now enjoying the Clinton River. But he said the number of people currently utilizing the river is “very low.”

“To be honest, right now, not a lot of people can use the river because there’s no place to go on it. I expect that will pick up once the river is cleared up of logjams,” he said.

Langlois said Sterling Heights currently has one kayak landing site that opened in 2014 at Clinton River Park North. He said city officials are considering additional possible sites for landings at the southern end of the city, and officials are seeking additional grant money for such work.

But for people who do go boating on the river, Langlois urged caution. He said the river could pose a danger when it has a very strong current, especially after a rain event.

“I think it is important for anyone on the water to understand that the Clinton River is unpredictable,” he said. “It goes from very low to very high and very swift.”

Other warnings about boating safety pertain to the region’s lakes.

Although the air temperatures have been climbing, West Bloomfield Fire Lt. Matt Majestic said the water temperature is still only ranging about 45 to 55 degrees.

“Hypothermia is going to set in just as if it’s the dead of winter,” Majestic said.

“Nobody ever plans for the accident. The kayakers, the paddle boarders, we tend to get a little complacent with our skills and our abilities,” he said. “Accidents happen in a second or less.”

Majestic said he frequently sees people without proper life jackets. Personal flotation devices should be readily available for every person on a vessel, along with a throwable flotation device. Children ages 6 and younger must wear a Type I or a Type II flotation device. The flotation devices should also match a person’s body type, he said.

“There’s a reason we call them life vests. They’re going to save your life,” Majestic said.

If people are drinking while on a vessel, just like with automobiles, there should be a designated driver.

“I’m not trying to be the fun governor, but someone operating the boat has to stay sober. … You’re going to be held to the same standards as if you’re driving a car,” he said.

Learn more about Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation Department by visiting www.myshpr.net or by calling (586) 446-2700.

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