Three Reasons to Give Urban Rivers a Chance

Three Reasons to Give Urban Rivers a Chance
The Awesome Mitten - Urban Rivers
Paint Creek Trail Head, downtown Rochester. Photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley

Southeast Michigan is undoubtedly the most urbanized area of our great state. It contains the beating heart of our industrial history and prowess, with a thriving metropolitan population. The amount of paved surfaces has steadily increased over the past few decades, and it’s not anything near to what we would think of as a scenic wilderness. Say “Southeast Michigan” to someone, and what’s the first thing they’ll probably think of? Detroit. Cars. Rustbelt. It’s pretty unlikely you’ll run across someone whose first thought is: rivers. Amid all of the hustle and bustle of the Detroit area, it’s easy to overlook the rivers and streams that run through our backyards and local parks. But check it out – I’m here to tell you that urban rivers are worth exploring, and here are a few reasons why…

Hike for miles – NO backcountry skills necessary. The Clinton River Trail, running through the heart of Oakland County, offers 16 miles to explore along an abandoned rail line. You can walk (run, bike, etc.) along the Paint Creek Trail (Riverwalk) in downtown Rochester, head west to the West Bloomfield Trail, or east to the Macomb Orchard Trail. Similarly, further south you’ll find Hines Park, an approximately 15-mile stretch of trails and green space running along the flood basin of the Rouge River from Northville to Dearborn. These are just two examples of places where you can find areas both teeming with outdoors and fitness lovers, as well as secluded pockets of nature that will make you question whether you’re near a big city at all.

Wildlife, wildlife wildlife. Give your urban rivers a shot, and you’ll see more wildlife than you think! If you quiet your mind and slow your steps along the Clinton or Rouge Rivers, you’ll see some fairly normal critters in abundance. Kayak (or even sit on the shore of) one of these rivers and you’ll be treated to even more: great blue herons, green herons, egrets, osprey, and maybe even a beaver! The creation of the trail systems along these now-urbanized rivers has helped to protect the green space that some of our favorite creatures call home!

The Awesome Mitten - Urban Rivers
Hawk takes flight along the Paint Creek Trail. Photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley.

On the rise. Thanks to the efforts of local watershed protection groups like Friends of the Rouge and the Clinton River Watershed Council, urban rivers are cleaner than ever – and getting cleaner! These groups work tirelessly to preserve and protect the integrity of these ecosystems, rallying thousands of volunteers every year to clean up trash, monitor invertebrates and fishes, and plant beneficial native species. Clean watersheds (basically the area of land that drains into a river) means cleaner rivers, which means a whole lot of benefits for everyone: better drinking water, more opportunities for clean and safe recreation, a boost to the economic engine of the region, and – of course – awesome trails for all of us to explore.

The Awesome Mitten - Urban Rivers
Dr. Orin Gelderloos (professor of Environmental Studies, University of Michigan-Dearborn) teaches a group about tree diversity along the Rouge River Gateway Trail. Photo courtesy of Cassie Bradley

I’ve jumped off giant rocks into a river flowing through a remote rain forest in northern Australia. I’ve cooled my heels in the Little Carp River of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula without another soul to be seen or heard for miles. I’ve braved the rapids of Pennsylvania’s stunning Youghiogheny. Still, when I get that itch to escape city life without actually taking a vacation or spending any money, urban rivers and their trails never fail to offer just what I’m searching for.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and explore your local river! Have a favorite urban river trail/spot in the Mitten? Let us know!

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Like many Michiganders, I have found myself continually drawn back to our great state after various explorations elsewhere (Virginia for graduate school, offshore Rhode Island for work). I just can't seem to stay away from all the awesome that the mitten has to offer. I am a proud Michigan State Spartan (Go Green!), and a nerd, plain and simple. I'm trained as a marine biologist, and have a soft spot for invertebrates (pun intended?). I love to read, bake, laugh, read, do yoga, camp, drink craft beer, and read. I'm happiest exploring the outdoors - especially the coasts of our Great Lakes! Come outside with me.