River maintenance

Our local club works with a township parks commission to keep a section of the Red Cedar more or less passable by canoe & kayak. If we can get through we will leave it alone but we do try to do enough cutting to make a path when needed. Today we walked in to work on a spot by a small island often jams up. The right side is a mess these days and we have been working on the left channel lately. Two weeks ago the water was too deep & fast to work on this one but today it was low enough that I could get where i needed to be & only be mid-thigh deep. we went from this:

to this with the help of three on shore to drag the logs up & away from the river.


Great job.

This is the perfect application for a cordless chainsaw, but I’d done some similar cleanup with handsaws

I don’t know if a cordless would do all of the job. I was using all of my 18" blade on some of these & went through most of a tank of fuel.

Brother-in-law has a cordless & it is nice but maybe limited to 6" - 8" logs.

There’s more than one type of river angel, and your club personifies it.


Cordless saws are available up to at least 16" bars.

If you can bring a gas saw that’s obviously more powerful, but not having to haul liquid fuel would be nice on a river.

Either way, you got it done and hopefully others will benefit from it.

We do relative short stretches (today we walked in to the jam). I’ve gotten to the age where I’m getting close to out of gas when the saw is. Starting to just fill up the saw first and then don’t carry a can of fuel along. Pretty much determines when the job is done.

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Some river angel cut thru a long-standing snag on the Huron below McCabe Road that was way too big for my hand saw. All I can say is thank you thank you thank you!

Nice work, and bless you (and the club and township parks commission) for doing it and for doing such a nice job of it. Kudos!

I’m curious, though… are the banks here on public or private land? This kind of thing can get contentious. Are you required to present a “clean-up plan” to anybody or get a permit of some kind?
(For the record, I don’t personally believe such things should be necessary, and have myself cleared a few paths clandestinely. But permitting has been proposed in some cases I’ve heard of and might (alas) be a way to settle such questions.)

As one example, there is a local creek near where I live that was cleaned up and made accessible for paddlers and trout fishermen for a stretch and it has worked out very well, but sections just upstream and downstream are jammed. It would be nice if the whole thing were made paddleable. The landowners along these stretches are not allowing folks to engage in such projects - their stated concerns are about liability if someone is injured while doing the work, what happens to the cuttings, and, in principle, the trees being cut are apparently legally the property of the owner of the land on which they’re rooted. These landowners object to folks cutting their trees, even if they are downed. They don’t feel a need to clear the stream themselves to improve public access through their private property (which they don’t want to encourage). Further, they don’t like being compelled to take any particular action on their own property for the sake of someone else’s recreational activities.
And then they claim to fear that more access to their property will result in littering.

There are also fishermen who feel that, since the trees provide “structure” and habitat for the food web of the stream, that unrestrained and unregulated removal will hurt the habitat for fishing - They feel streams can be made “too clean” for good fishing. And good fishing is their primary concern.

Has you club encountered any such problems? If so, how have they been resolved? What might work for other clubs faced with such issues?

Thanks again for the good work. It reflects well on all paddlers. We should all do likewise at least from time to time.

@PJC, The area that we as a club work in is bordered on at least one bank by township land. We work under a limited set of guidelines and are really only providing minimal passage as wood is good for the river. We are not disturbing the river bottom or bank and so a permit is not needed. This is a lowland area with soft banks where the river will often erode & drop trees. There tends to be much fewer blockages below the area that we work on and limited trimming is usually needed. There are others in the area that will work on there own including one marathon canoe racer who is known to work with a hand saw out of a Savage River C1. This fall, upstream of where we work, there is a major funded project going on to clear massive log jams that are (mostly) from a tornado a few years ago.

From the Michigan DEQ guide: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/WRD_WLSU_Vegetation_Removal_Handout_May_2018_FINAL_622133_7.pdf
If the tree is embedded in the lake or stream such that
bottom sediments or the banks of the inland lake or stream
will be disturbed during the removal of a fallen tree, a permit
is required. Because fallen trees provide important fish and
wildlife habitat, the DEQ recommends that as much of the
tree remain in place as possible and that the embedded
pieces of the tree be cut off to avoid disturbing the lake or
river bottom and banks.

I’m not the organizer of these projects & and definitely NOT a lawyer so I can’t be really specific on any issues, but AFAIK, we have not had issues with land owners and as the Red Cedar is a navigable stream under Michigan law we are able to touch bottom & wade as needed. I don’t know ownership when an entity owns both banks.

On the littering concerns, I do understand riparian land owners problems. The trash I see on public trails & well used rivers is depressing. There seems to be a reverse law of physics that postulates that the mass of an object increases as value is extracted from the object. Therefore, when all value has been extracted from an object the mass approaches infinity and the remains of the object can no longer be carried and must be left behind.

That’s a nice concise summary and it seems like you took a reasonable approach. Our local nature center owns two miles of the Paw Paw River and had much discussion around whether to open it up for public use and at the end of the day agreed to do so. It helps the local community and shows a willingness to compromise and makes it safer for kayakers but it’s not easy for a nature center to endorse the negative impact to the ecosystem and threats to threatened or endangered species that live along the banks. The threatened species are usually small critters that no one has heard of and few would care about.

Its nice to see a set of reasonable guidelines, as your DEQ has provided, for public reference. Your pictured good work is testament to the value of such guidelines. If something like those guidelines is available in this state, I haven’t seen them. I do think I know someone who is in a position to have something like that worked up, though. I bet I know who’s ear to put a bug in. Thanks for the idea.

Like you, I also sympathize with landowner concerns about littering. The stretch of creek I was referring to in my earlier post has, so far, not been littered at all as far as I can see, but I worry about it if it becomes more popular. Eventually it seems like there will always be a few who can really make a mess of things.
Out on the river proper I, and I think most other paddlers, usually end up packing out trash as we find it - but we do continue to find it. I kind of hate to take a stance against anyone who gets people out on the water in paddle craft, often for the first time, but I have to say it seems like the more rental paddlers liveries put on a river, the more litter one finds. Land owners along the river see this too, but I’m not sure they distinguish between paddle craft renters and paddle craft owners. They just see the paddlers and the trash.

It behooves us to pick up not only after ourselves but also our perhaps less experienced rental brethren. If as a result of their time spent on the river the paddling bug bites them, I like to think they’ll buy a boat and develop better habits eventually. If the paddling bug doesn’t bite them, they’ll go litter somewhere else. Sooner than later would be better.

Not a lawyer but this came up locally and as I understand some of the laws, nobody can impede someone’s progress on a navigable waterway. This includes navigable by canoe. You cannot step on the banks, they are private property, but the watercourse itself is public and property owners can’t interfere. Technically it changes with water level.

I’m not a lawyer either but, as I understand it, it varies by state. In some states the river bottom is considered privately owned, so wading or even touching the bottom with a paddle is technically forbidden without an owner’s permission.
As I understand it, in my state you can walk, or even camp, on unposted land below the spring high water mark - so pay attention to those grass clumps caught in the overhanging tree branches. I don’t think that’s the case in all states though.
Where I live a “navigable” waterway is one in which a canoe can be floated, even if its just a pool in a seep that goes nowhere. In other states, again as I understand it, “navigable” means commercially navigable, though I don’t know what “commerce” means in that context… historically capable of fur trade perhaps?
In another state where I once lived even portaging around a dam could potentially be considered trespassing and lead to some sort of litigation in a worst case scenario. (I’ve never heard of a case where it was enforced. There may be some though, I just don’t know.) So in that case a river might be technically navigable, as rivers are supposedly considered to be under federal law, but still not be able to be traveled continuously because of privately owned shorelines at dams. So there can in some cases be a “navigable in practice” and a “navigable in law” distinction.
It would be interesting to see some sort of “strict constructionist” interpretation that considered what the founders would have intended. Would they have really thought private parties should be able to control or prohibit travel on a river? I’d think not. (Who would Washington have had to get permission from to launch or land after crossing the Delaware?) I’d hope it would be treated like the airspace over private property or as a sidewalk or street in front of a private home now is. (And if a tree falls over that sidewalk or street, shouldn’t anyone be allowed to clear it to allow passage? If not, why not? After all, we’re certainly allowed, even required in some places, to shovel snow or spread salt for the benefit of public travel by or through private property.)
Perhaps there are some lawyers who are also paddlers here? What’s the real legal story?

Around here they dump junk in the small creeks like that and call it fish habitat. Anyway, you can’t touch anything nature does without a special permit. I know of one case where there is a multi-million dollar beach mansion that is going to be washed away because the Corps of Engineers won’t allow any rip–rapping… A friend of mine was told the same thing on his place, but somehow he got permission to dump some boulders that has saved his place.

I guess the lesson here is don’t build your house on sand anywhere near a river… Beaches tend to come and go…

Nice to see it open, but interesting. You’re working with parks so I’m sure you’re OK, but environmental laws in modern times tend to ban this sort of work since the obstructions are often deemed beneficial to wildlife in general and fish specifically.
Loggers or developers aren’t allowed to touch anything for quite a ways from the streams and rivers.

Wow, I thought we had challenges trying to get permission for (mountain bike) trail maintenance on local public lands. Once we developed good relationships with local governing bodies…and always behaved on trails (staying on trails, cleaning up all trash, NO drinking, treating other trail users with respect, etc.) we saw a partnership develop where local officials respect our work and trust that we do what we say.

But having to leave an obstruction on the trail (or in the river) because it’s a wildlife habitat, that just adds a whole 'nother level of complexity…

In Michigan what we are doing is legal and acceptable. We do not modify the banks or the river bottom. Upstream of us there is work being done that has permits pulled and heavy equipment and professionals are involved.

Like I said, since you are working with parks I’m sure it’s good. I’m used to a different set of rules. Maybe spawning salmon out west is the big difference, and the rules out west apply generally to rivers and streams that don’t see salmon also.