Thursday, June 16, 2016

After Searching for Decades, Wayne Groesbeck Finally Finds the Last Undiscovered Dam in the Muskegon River Watershed, the Fur Farm Dam.

A man at Pigeon Hill's bar was swirling his beer to aerate the pint, half full. My initial reaction was puzzlement because swirling wine to open up the flavor is pretty common. Swirling beer? Well, that's just fussy. I called myself an asshole under my breath when I remembered his name, Wayne Groesbeck. Having known Groesbeck for almost five years through his causes, if he were swirling beer, he was on a very specific inquiry. Groesbeck has had a personal and professional experience with water since the United States Army trained him as an engineer on the Panama Canal. Water and Wayne have been very good friends since he came of age in Central America.

We have had a running conversation since we met at a drinking party organized by so called whining liberals. There's plenty of Republican duck hunters and trout fishermen who are down with Groesbeck's mission. I snuck up beside him and proposed, "Wayne, let's get a growler of Shifting Sands and go blow up that stupid private dam that impounds that creek at Newaygo". Wayne knows dams on the Muskegon, why built and the owner. The nuisance blocking salmon going upstream in downtown Newaygo pretty much generates power for a dumpy cabin with a bare ass light bulb and a fridge for six packs.

" That's hardly an original notion. I've thought about paying a boatload of fisherman to torpedo the last dam near Hersey, Michigan, keeping back the Hersey River. The watershed council demolished the first one. Some guy in Northern Cali wants a quarter mill to give over his useless dam".

The Muskegon River conveys the water gathered over a three thousand square mile watershed. Around ninety dams built to run mills or irrigate fields constrain the flow of that great Michigan river, lessening habitat for trout and salmon. Groesbeck has dedicated his life to making the Muskegon entirely a free flow river. So he's led a team that has demolished dams. In cases like Morley, the team has preserved a beloved millpond and run the cold Muskegon around it.

One and only one dam had eluded his investigation, the Fur Farm dam, a dam that existed only in folk lore. A man wanted to raise mink, and he impounded the Muskegon to create a pond. A year ago, he thought the dam was found on Tamarack Creek, which flows through the town of Howard City and hooks upward to Amvke and Lakeview. I followed the river myself on Google Maps, squinting at satellite images. I even enlisted the help of a Harbor Restaurants bartender.

Steve Kurtz mixes up a fine martini at the Theater Bar, serving a full house with quick grace. In private life, he sculpts quirky statues and builds his own kayaks from wood he timbers himself. These wooden kayaks dare tributaries of Michigan Rivers that even fishermen overlook. Once he took a kayak journey from the confluence of Crockery Creek with the Grand all the way upstream to Ravenna. He plays on the Muskegon like a beaver, kayaking upstream as easily as downstream, portaging knowingly between branches. Running GPS all the time, Kurtz has mapped his river journeys.

Kurtz accepted the mission in between making dozens and dozens of Cosmopolitans on Ladies Manicure night. And even he couldn't find Fur Farm dam on Tamarack Creek. So it wasn't on Tamarack Creek.

Wayne accepted a full pint of Renegade on me. He took a pull, savored, and looked at me as if he were Jim Harrison himself. "Fur Farm dam has been found, found and documented".

He had my complete attention. He had driven up to Marion Michigan, on Michigan 66, on a hint from a friend and reported to that village's watering hole where a single old timer sat drinking. The old timer gave him a look and said, " What brings you to Marion cause you're not from around these parts". Groesbeck called the bartender, bought a round of what the local was drinking and started talking river talk.

"The Fur Farm dam brings you here? Hell, when that guy started raising those minks, the cemetery became useless. Those minks stink to heaven and back"!

Groebeck had his new friend draw a map on the back of a lottery slip, set up another Natty as a thank you and set off to find the dam before dark made it impossible. Finding the Summer field Cemetery all right, a two track beyond a wash out brought our hero to his the grail, the final undocumented dam in the Muskegon river watershed.

He didn't say how he celebrated. I would have brought a six pack and drank about three. A quest that had lasted since the last century had completed, totally victorious.

I pulled out my Android phone, and found the Summerfield Township Cemetery using Find-A-Grave. Groesbeck and I found the wash out, the two track and a marshy woodlot behind an inpoudment with plenty of ripples below an obstruction. Thank you Google Maps, satellite view. I set up a final Renegade Red for Groesbeck and promised to visit this dam that eluded a team of river surveyors paid big money for a watershed study.

I paused my departure. A man wearing a Keweenaw Brewing Company hat chimed in after eavesdropping the whole time. "Minks? I'll tell you about minks. Around Marquette, minks did really well for years. Then the air force built that airport near Gwinn. One sonic boom and minks snuffed out their litter. High strunk creatures, those minks".

Groesbeck and the Hooper fell into chat and I began adjusting my plans for the weekend. Summerfield Township was south and east of Cadillac, west of Harrison. The road began whispering seductively.

The next night, I drove to Grand Haven to drink a glass of Bell's Two Hearted Ale at the Theater Bar and break the news to Steve Kurtz. Kurtz just set up a cold Two Hearted for me and asked the dreaded question, " So, have you broken in your kayak this season"? He knew that answer. He knew I had yet to replace the kayak I had lost on light whitewater on the Boardman River. Everybody had a full glass of martini, wine or beer and the famous guitar hero, Chris Weiser, had the house enchanted from the small stage behind the bar and between the booze bottles. "Hey, I checked out that metal dam on Mosquito Creek. Snow was on the ground still, but the water was open". He flicked out an IPhone and showed me a selfie of himself, dancing on the top of this dangerously rusty dam. Next photo caught a muskrat asleep on an icy patch of shoreline. " Poor rodent got roused from his sleep too early. The unseasonable cold earlier this spring made them curl up and nap without warning. Muskrat Morsels on ice ripe for coyote snacking".

I pulled out my Android and queued up a satelitte of Fur Farm Dam, just to put it on Kurtz's short list. "So here's the dam, and the rushing water beneath it. Looks like it meaders a full mile before this tributary finds it way to Middle Branch, Muskegon River. Groesbeck says he might let this dam live. The mink pond created by the dam has plenty of fish habitat and even wild cranberry bushes".

" Wow, I've never found cranberry bushes before", added Kurtz, paddling around the pond on my Android screen, taking strokes with his forefinger. "I gotta scoop up those floating berries when they fall later this year".

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