Protecting the Saginaw Bay Watershed & the Headwaters of the Shiawassee River


The Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail presents a seven mile, nature-embracing, Oakland County stretch that takes paddlers from Holly to Fenton through woodlands, meadows, and farmlands.  Nearby, Great Blue Heron’s stalk their prey, around sunning turtles and over very small rapids. Paddlers also have the pulse-raising excitement of slipping over a small beaver dam, passing through large culverts that go under an active railway, and perhaps spying a passing Bald Eagle.

The day may come when a kayaker will be able to navigate from the Shiawassee River at the tiny roadside Waterworks Park in Holly, and paddle all the way from northwestern Oakland County to Saginaw Bay, 110 miles away, and perhaps on into Lake Huron. The colorful interpretive sign at the launch site for the Shiawassee River Heritage Water Trail entices paddlers with that dream.  Although it is still just a dream, dreams coupled with research, science and dedicated people are catalysts for reality. Some who hold that dream, and have concerns on water quality, recently gathered in Bay City. I was one.

This multi-agency story, spawned by a project of The Nature Conservancy, started in Bay City, on a rainy morning two weeks ago when I was warmly welcomed aboard the Schooner Appledore to partake in the “Saginaw Bay Sail for the Agriculture Community.” This educational endeavor was a reminder that what we do in Oakland County plays a significant role in the water quality of the Saginaw Bay, as its watershed is the largest in the state of Michigan, spanning 5.5 million acres and 22 counties.

For three hours on-board the schooner, professionals, including speakers representing local agriculture, economic development and recreational fisheries discussed the benefits of agricultural conservation for regional environment integrity.  With agriculture use covering 45 percent of the watershed’s land area, the ecological health of the Saginaw Bay and its tributaries is essential to the entire Great Lakes Ecosystem, supporting a diversity of fish, migratory birds and other wildlife.

As other guests performed water tests and searched for tiny invertebrates in muck scooped from the river’s bottom, I watched the shoreline for Cormorants, Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. Then came the surprise – the eagle.

An adult Bald Eagle perched majestically on a mountain of quarried rocks along the busy Saginaw River, a reminder that what is good for the health of rivers and wildlife is good for all of us. Perhaps one day kayakers will be able to paddle from Oakland County’s Rose Oaks County Park through the quiet headwaters of the Shiawassee River to the shipping channels of the Saginaw River.

Oakland County residents learn more about the role our area plays in the Saginaw Bay Watershed, by contacting the Michigan Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

 Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.

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3 thoughts on “Protecting the Saginaw Bay Watershed & the Headwaters of the Shiawassee River

  1. With a little pre-planning, staging a car downstream 20, 30, 40 miles can provide a return trip for multiple paddlers. Shuttling is part of paddling ! Of course paddling UPstream against the current for 10 miles and floating back the car makes for a nice day paddle as well

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