This tour offers kayakers something special in Ottawa County, boasting one of the longest stretches of undeveloped river frontage in the area. It offers solitude, peace, and quiet. This stretch of river is rich in history from the days when people got their information by word of mouth as it was carried along the river. It was this word of mouth that would attract new settlements as saw mills were constructed and towns were formed around these mills.
The starting point for this tour is on the south bank of the river at Grand River Park. The boat launch at Grand River Park is located at the end of 28th Ave off of Fillmore St. You’ll travel west to the ending point for this trip, Eastmanville Bayou Open Space, also on the south bank of the river; located adjacent to the 68th St Bridge.
This tour requires the spot-a-car technique. Leave one vehicle at the ending point Eastmanville Bayou and when the paddle is complete drive the “spotted” vehicle to the starting point to retrieve the other vehicle. This technique usually involves leaving the kayaks unattended for a period of time. Use a common bike lock to lock the kayaks together. One other way to complete this paddle without having to spot a car is to plan to have someone pick you up at the end of the trip to and drive you back to your vehicle.
The estimated time frame for this tour is 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on the speed of the kayaker and the strength of the wind. Take into consideration that there are no restroom stops along this route until you reach Eastmanville Bayou. There are restrooms located in Grand River Park before reaching boat launch. Fresh water and a snack are recommended.
From Grand River Park the river bends north and will head north and northwest for part of the trip. As soon as the river is heading north you are entering the ravines area to your west. Look for an Ottawa County Parks boundary marker along the west bank of the river that will mark the location of the Grand Ravines Park.
The ravine system in this area ranked among the County’s highest quality natural lands in a 1988 survey by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Hiking trails are proposed to connect with trails through GVSU ravines providing significant hiking opportunities. There is also a universally accessible kayak launch and fishing deck at the park.
Across the river from the Grand Valley Ravines on the east bank is the Grand River Open Space. This 111 acre Open Space includes 1.2 miles of riverfront with floodplain forest and wetlands.
As you pass the Ravines the next landmark you will come to is the Grand Valley Rowing Team dock and boat house. This stretch of water serves as the practice facility for the Grand Valley Rowing team. Rowing was the first ever sport at Grand Valley State University.
From here the river will pass under the M-45 Bridge. After you pass M-45 if you look to the right and left once you are past the center island, you can see the road end of old M-45 and where the previous bridge once existed.
After passing under the M-45 Bridge you will be entering another long stretch of river with very little development along the banks. There is a combination of natural wooded land and open farm land that run along the bank. These open spaces make great habitat for a variety of wildlife.
As mentioned earlier, the lumber industry was dependant on the Grand River for transportation of goods, and stemmed settlements and growth along the river. One of these settlements along this stretch of river was Blendon Landing.
George Cole formed the Blendon Lumber Company in 1854. The company owned more than 200 acres in Allendale Township, which included the company’s headquarters at Blendon Landing on the Grand River. The Village of Blendon Landing was located on a bluff above the Grand River. At the base of the bluff along the Grand River stood a saw mill and shipyard. The village contained a large boarding house, a general store, a school house, an ice house, a blacksmith shop, a saloon and a number of cabins.
There were sluices and a spillway for delivering logs from the bluff to the sawmill and shipyard. Every building, even the long stairway to the mill, was painted red. In the shipyard, several schooners were built, and schooner masts were shipped as far as Chicago. The village also boasted a brick making industry.
Ten years later in 1864, Bledon Landing sawmill burned down and by 1876 Blendon Landing and its 200 inhabitants had disappeared. The settlement existed in parts of what are now Tallmadge and Georgetown townships.
After the second bend to the left from M-45 you will be approaching Kuits Bayou County Open Space. This long narrow bayou is surrounded by forest and is only accessible by boat. Look for the Ottawa County Park boundary marker along the south bank to see where the property begins. Landing is allowed all along this bank and this might be a nice place to take a break get out and stretch your legs. An unmarked trail runs most of the length of the property along the river.
Across the river from Kuits Bayou County Open Space is the town of Lamont. Along the river this used to be the site of the Lamont Button Factory. About 1890 a German perfected a system of making buttons for clothing out of clam shells.
Before long a two-story, frame button factory was constructed in Lamont along the banks of the Grand River. The factory used thick-shelled, fresh water mussels (also called Mother-of-Pearl clams) that could be found in the river.
Harvesters dragged the bottom of the river with hooks to bring in the pig-toe, mucket, and pimpleback clams and sell them to roving buyers, who in turn sold them to the button factory. There, the clams were steamed, the meat excised and discarded, and plugs were cut from the shells in various thicknesses. Next the round shapes were ground to a uniform thickness, and tumbled smooth in rotating drums. Finally, workers drilled thread holes and polished their product for final sale. The remaining shell fragments were crushed and used to pave walkways in parks and elsewhere. The factory apparently was still open as late as 1912, but closed soon after.
Almost immediately where Kuits Bayou ends on the south bank of the river Ripps Bayou begins along the north bank of the river. Follow the north bank of the river and looks for the County Parks boundary marker. This 172 acre site is located in Polkton Township and is only accessible by boat from the Grand River. The site is surrounded by private property and there is no road access. The property includes a large bayou surrounded by woods.
If you would like to paddle around Ripps Bayou, or go fishing from your boat, the best place to portage is by the western park boundary. Here the portage is shorter and less dense with trees. During the spring and early summer when water levels are high, flooded areas allow access without having to get out of your kayak.
Just beyond Ripps Bayou is Deer Creek County Park which features a boat launch at the mouth of Deer Creek. Deer Creek is a small tributary to the Grand River and offers a fun short paddle, approximately 20 minutes until it dead ends into a field.
In 1917, the Eastmanville Bridge was completed, the only river-crossing access in central Ottawa County. After sixty years of traffic, this bridge was replaced.
Eastmanville Bayou begins just past Deer Creek along the south bank of the river. The 68th St bridge will be visible soon. This is the ending point of the tour. Eastmanville Bayou was recently improved in fall 2011. The improvements include the new kayak launch/landing, parking area, pit toilets, picnic facilities, and improved hiking trails.