Paddling safely during COVID-19

To combat the spread of COVID-19 in Michigan, Governor Whitmer extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order until May 15. Please remember to stay home as much as you possibly can and stay at least 6 feet from others if out. People should do everything they can to stay away from others outside their own households. Exercise and outdoor activity is allowed under the order assuming you take appropriate precautions. Indeed, paddling, biking, running, or hiking can be a great way to put even more social distance between yourself and others. In many cases, getting out on a river or a lake is the most secluded you can be in Michigan.Kayak Stack

That being said, the Huron River Watershed Council encourages you to follow the executive order and stay home to stay safe. Most of the facilities, services, and businesses along the Huron River Water Trail will be closed through May 15 and perhaps even longer. Most public restrooms are closed. Campsites are closed. Many of the river access points will be closed to motor vehicles.

Check for closure updates with Water Trail partners:

Even after official COVID-19 guidelines are relaxed, it will be wise to practice social distancing for the next year, even into the 2021 paddling season. If you do choose to explore the water trail or paddle elsewhere, the trick is to avoid others while traveling to your destination, while you paddle, and while you load up to come home.

Here are tips to keep yourself safe from COVID-19 while exploring the Huron River or other waterways:

  1. Avoid popular paddling or outdoor activity locations and time your trip wisely. We can’t stress this point enough. If you know a popular outdoor recreation area will likely draw a lot of people, go somewhere else. This makes following all the other guidelines easier. For example, we have seen a surge in paddlers with their own boats on the Huron River between Dexter and Ann Arbor, and some paddlers have reported difficulty in finding parking at a safe distance from others. With schools and businesses closed, keep in mind that many people will be out at times they normally wouldn’t be–making for unexpected crowds.
  2. Paddle in places that you know require far less paddling skill than you have.  Take every precaution to paddle safely and avoid a paddling-related injury. Even in the Huron River’s urban areas an injury could leave you stranded in a location that is difficult for first responders to reach. You’ll be drawing emergency personnel away from COVID-19 response efforts, and you will likely be exposed to medical staff that have been exposed to the novel coronavirus themselves.
  3. Keep your group size small. Normally, we recommend paddling with a friend. Under these circumstances, we recommend paddling solo in a safe place you already know well while letting friends know where you’re going and when. Keep your paddler group limited to 2-3 people at most.
  4. Maintain at least a 6-foot distance at all times from others outside your household and minimize the time you’re in the same vicinity as others. Carry on friendly conversations with folks you haven’t seen for a while over the phone. This applies to all activities. Even while you’re paddling, stay 6 feet away from others on the waterway. This includes other paddlers, even those in your own group. Keeping a full kayak paddle length between you and others should be enough.
  5. Bring supplies to wash your hands and bring your own hand towel. Throw a bar of soap, a bucket, and clean water in with the rest of your gear so you can wash your hands before and after paddling. Hand sanitizer is another option.
  6. Only touch your own gear. Again, we’re applying a common rule to paddling. If you help someone carry a boat, remember where you touched it. If you carry the stern to launch, carry the stern when you take out.
  7. Avoid areas that require you to touch common surfaces. If you know there’s a tricky portage or launch that might make you want to grab a railing or put your hands down on a common surface, consider alternatives, or be prepared to wash your hands while in the middle of your trip.
  8. Avoid sharing snacks and drinks. Bring plenty for everyone to have their own stash. Avoid all sharing. Make every person carry their own food bag.
  9. Camping along waterways isn’t advised under active state and federal guidelines. Most parks and camping areas will be closed and unmaintained. If you’re planning a through-paddle for the 2020 season, plan to stay at home at night and pick up where you started the next day while following all other guidelines.
  10. Don’t let COVID-19 distract you from following normal safety precautions. This is all a distracting, frustrating mess, and it will end eventually. Until then, take your time. Make sure to follow standard safety procedures like telling your friends where you’re going, checking river and weather conditions before you leave, and wearing a personal flotation device.

If you do go out, share your stories on social media! We all like paddling with friends and sharing the experience. Share your love of the river remotely. Use hashtags #huronriver and #huronriverwatertrail.

If you choose to stay home, you can still explore with our  HURON RIVER VIRTUAL TOUR.

PFAS in Foam on the Huron River Water Trail

As the emerging threat of PFAS has unfolded across Michigan and on the Huron River, it’s raised concerns about recreation.

Swimming, bathing, and boating on the Huron River Water Trail are still okay. For those activities, continue to enjoy the water as you have with a few minor precautions. PFAS isn’t

Foam that possibly contains PFAS

Photo of foam from 2013 that possibly contains PFAS, near Barton Dam, Ann Arbor, by Rebecca Foster.

a health risk when exposed to skin. The risk is that high levels of PFAS in foam can get on your hands and clothes and eventually make it into your mouth or nose. It’s a health risk when ingested over time, so accidental mouthfuls of river water are no cause for concern. The State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish advisory for the Huron River and an advisory to avoid ingesting river foam.

PFAS tends to concentrate in foam and can lead to foam forming on the river, but foam is also naturally occurring. State experts and resources describe PFAS foam as bright white, sticky, lightweight, and that it tends to pile up near the water’s edge. Other harmless substances can create similar foam, however, and there’s really no practical way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS. If you find foam you suspect is not naturally occurring, call the state’s 24-hour pollution hotline at (800) 292-4706.

Enjoy the River While Protecting Yourself from PFAS Foam

  • Have fun swimming and boating on the river away from foam. Skin contact with river water or foam isn’t a concern.  Accidental mouthfuls of river water or no cause for alarm.
  • Avoid foam on the Huron River or connected lakes and creeks. Avoid touching foam and make sure to keep pets and kids away from foam. PFAS tends to concentrate in foam.
  • Foam naturally occurs on rivers and PFAS tends to concentrate in foam, but there’s no way to know how much PFAS is in any glob of foam just by looking at it. It’s best to play it safe and treat all foam on the river as potentially containing high levels of PFAS.
  • Although it feels nice on a hot summer day, don’t linger in the spray immediately below dams. It may be possible to inhale PFAS attached to foam spray.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water and rinse off once you get home from paddling or swimming in the river.
  • Rinse off pets if they made contact with foam or foamy water. Rinsing off in the same river or lake where foam isn’t present is okay.

For more information on PFAS in the Huron River watershed, visit the Huron River Watershed Council’s webpage at


PFAS in Fish on the Huron River

Don’t eat fish from the Huron River. The State of Michigan has tested fish from multiple location on the Huron River and found high levels of PFAS. The Michigan Department of Health

PFAS Do Not Eat the Fish Sign at Baseline Lake

PFAS Do Not Eat the Fish Sign at Baseline Lake by Daniel Brown

and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a Do Not Eat Fish Advisory for the entire river. Because fish are mobile, the Huron River Watershed Council advises you to avoid eating fish for the river or any connected lake or creek.

PFAS accumulates in fish meat. That makes it different than previous contaminants that accumulated in fat that could be safely scraped away from the filet.

The Do Not Eat Fish Advisory for the Huron River upriver from Ypsilanti will likely continue for the foreseeable future. The advisory may be lifted sooner in areas downriver. The levels of PFAS found in the waters of Kent Lake and its fish were especially high. Lakes and river sections from Island Lake State Recreation Area to Milford will likely see the advisory remain in place longer than elsewhere.

Other recreational activities, like swimming and kayaking on the river are okay. You can read about how to protect yourself from PFAS while enjoying the river HERE.

The Huron River Watershed Council is monitoring developments regarding PFAS in the river and regularly updates the webpage at


PFAS and Recreation on the Huron River

This blog was originally posted in April 2019. Our understanding of the PFAS crisis has improved significantly since then, and we’re updating this post for 2023.

As the the extent of PFAS contamination around the globe has become apparent, it’s raised concerns about recreation. The Huron River was one of the first rivers in Michigan widely known to be contaminated by PFAS. Thanks to remediation efforts, PFAS levels in surface river water have fallen by about 99% compared to where they were in 2018. As long as we take some basic precautions, we can continue to enjoy the river as we have in the past.

Swimming, Paddling, and Boating Is Okay

Swimmers at Baseline Lake

Swimmers at Baseline Lake in Dexter.

At the levels of PFAS contamination found in the river, the best available science tells us that regular swimming in the river is okay and that we can continue to enjoy the river as we have. PFAS is a health risk when ingested over time, or with repeated exposures to very high levels, such as what workers in industrial environments might encounter.

Avoid Foam

PFAS concentrates in foam at levels much higher than in non-foamy water. Agitated PFAS may cause “PFAS foam” which resembles smooth, creamy, sticky foam, but PFAS can also concentrate in naturally-occurring foam, so it’s best to assume that all foam on the river contains elevated levels of PFAS.

If you do make contact with foam, don’t panic. Simply rinse off with non-foamy river water and wash up with soap when you can.

Take care to keep pets and young kids away from foam, as they may touch foam and accidentally ingest it. If that happens, there is no immediate health concern due to PFAS. The concern is repeated exposure over long periods of time, but it’s best to avoid exposure to foam when possible.

Foam also tends to form below dams, and there is some concern about PFAS in spray droplets that people may inhale. For those reasons, it’s best not to linger in areas below dams.

Do Not Eat Fish on the Huron River

The State of Michigan has issued a Do Not Eat Fish Advisory for most of the Huron River. We expect the advisory will remain in place for several years. Anglers should not eat any fish from the Huron River or the connected waterways for the foreseeable future above I-275. Below I-275 in the lowest section of the Huron River, the state guidelines suggest some consumption of fish is safe. Consult the Eat Safe Fish Guides to protect yourself from PFAS and other contaminants in fish.

Note that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is currently reevaluating their guidelines, which are based on old information. Several lines of recent scientific evidence have demonstrated that PFAS are more toxic and widespread in fish than previously thought. The Huron River Watershed Council recommends exercising additional caution and to avoid consuming fish from the Huron River until updated guidance becomes available.

The Huron River Watershed council recently partnered with the Ecology Center and Friends of the Rouge to sample fish in two watersheds. Every single fish sampled in that study contained PFAS, regardless of the species and where they were caught. Read the summary here.

Conditions in the Huron River Improving Amidst a Global Problem

We now know that PFAS are far more toxic and far more pervasive around the world than previously thought. What was once described as an emerging crisis in 2018 is now understood to be long-term global problem.

That said, conditions on the Huron River have improved. As we head into the 2023 paddling season, PFAS levels in the river are significantly lower than they were four years ago. Several sources of the PFAS to the river have been identified and addressed, and the levels of PFAS found in sampled fish is lower than what was found in 2018 and 2019. The Huron River Watershed Council is working with state and local partners to address additional sources, reduce contamination to the river, and inform paddlers on the Water Trail.

Visit for more information.





How To Paddle Through the Entire Huron River

A Paddler’s Journey – Ron Sell’s 2013 River Expedition

A little over 20 years ago, Joan Martin (Huron River Watershed Council Adopt-A-Stream emeritus) had the wonderful idea of getting a bunch of people together and paddling the whole length of the Huron River.  After a year of planning, getting dozens of people involved and communities on board, Joan’s idea grew into RIVERFEST, a nine day celebration of the river from start to finish. The expedition was fun, enlightening and a great experience for all – forming bonds and networks that continue today.

It seemed like time to do the trip again, to see what has changed over 20 years. Armed with HRWC’s new Paddler’s Companion guide book, we could see how close we have come to making a true water trail. We would do it in 5 days without the fanfare or agenda, just for fun and adventure.

For this trip, we were a small and select group of paddlers. Paul and Joanne Lang from Ohio, Marty Cooperman from Cleveland, Steve Gilzow of Saline, and Paul Seelbach of Chelsea made up our merry band.

Day 1: Proud Lake to Island Lake Canoe Camp

14.63 mi
4 hrs 29 min paddling
2 portages

Beautiful weather, lots of birds and fishes. Light tail wind makes the 3 mile crossing of Kent Lake a breeze. Two easy portages, nice clean water after the Kent Lake Dam. Canoe camp is very pleasant and secluded. Peaceful camping overnight, but no drinking water available on site.

Day 2: Island Lake Camp to Hudson Mills

22.75 mi
6.5 hrs paddling
1 portage

8am start on the water through one of the nicest stretches of the river. A very pleasant paddle, dodging fallen trees. First, lunch at Huron Meadows, then on to the lakes.

Good paddling karma gives us light breezes across Strawberry, Whitewood and Gallagher Lakes and gets us to Base Line Lake. We stop for second lunch at the University of Michigan Sailing Club. Paul explains how we are leaving the first phase of the river – upland wetland woodland – and entering the section that works its way through the rocky, gravelly glacial moraines.

Mink, muskrat, great blue heron, orioles, catbirds, kingfishers, killdeer, cygnets riding on the back of a swan, owl (barred?), pileated woodpecker. Signs of beaver below Base Line Lake. The eagle that has been hanging out around Bell Road was absent today.

Many carp splashing, suckers along the bottom and small mouth bass. A fisherman at the rapids at Hudson Mills reported catching (and releasing) 27 this day.

Day 3: Hudson Mills to Superior Pond

22.7 miles
6.5 hrs paddling
4 portages

On the water before 8am. Up close and personal look at the tornado damage from March 15, 2012. Some impressive “tornado art” just above Mill Creek. Great blue herons escorting us all the way down the river. Several of us elect to run Delhi Rapids; the rest choose to portage.

I forget how nice the stretch below Delhi is to paddle. Often overlooked, this stretch is mostly natural, high banks on the south and strong, steady current. The drop at the old Osborn Mills site adds some excitement.

Our good paddling karma continues with a tailwind across Barton Pond; two egrets and an osprey inspire us on. Quick stop at the NEW Center to salute the Huron River Watershed Council staff, then on to lunch at the Argo Livery before tackling the Cascades. Be sure to stop and enjoy the Ned Sharples bench in front of the livery–he inspired many of us to paddle, enjoy and protect the river. We run the Cascades with empty boats without incident but all dragged our sterns on the rock on the last drop.

Past the UM Hospital, through the Arboretum and an easy run across Gallup Pond and quick portage over the Geddes Dam put us in Superior Pond. We discuss the history of this forgotten and peaceful stretch of river and end the day at a secret campsite we’ve nicknamed “Superior Bluffs – a gated community”. Laura Rubin joins us for a few hours. We have a lively and very informative discussion on a wide variety of topics, all river-related. Peaceful night, no bugs.

Day 4: Superior Pond to Lower Huron Metropark

16 miles
4.5 hours paddling
3 portages

Up early again and on the water by 8am, a short paddle to our first portage– Peninsula Dam. This portage is pretty straight-forward and fairly easy, but lack of maintenance has led to deterioration of the landings, making it harder than it should be. Back on the water and a fairly fast ride through Ypsilanti. We all remark on the waterfront potential of this town and can envision an active vibrant face to the river with the restaurants, shops and boardwalks.

On to Ford Lake, our weather karma continues with cool temps, overcast skies and no wind – perfect paddling conditions. Here we leave the second phase of the river, leaving behind the glacial moraine features and enter the glacial lake bottom evidenced by the high clay or gravel banks that the river has cut through on its way to present day Lake Erie. Portaging the Ford Lake Dam takes some effort and teamwork of the group but we are soon back on the water headed for Belleville, stopping for lunch at Van Buren Park where Willow Run enters the river.

We eventually arrive at French Landing, tired but not beat. The portage here is difficult, if not impossible, so we use the backup plan – Kay is called in and helps us with a car shuttle into Lower Huron Metropark.

A short paddle brings us to the canoe camp. We are all excited by a visitor, an all-white bird that flits and perches around the campground, causing much speculation. We determine it is a white phase (leucistic) kingbird, something none of us has ever seen.

Day 5: Lower Huron Metropark to Lake Erie

27 miles
6.5 hrs paddling
1 portage

After another quiet and peaceful night camping, we’re up early for an 8 am start. Mike George arrives to accompany us as far as Oakwoods Metropark, and Jim Pershing, Superintendent for the Park, shows up to bid us a Bon Voyage.

This next stretch is perhaps the best kept secret of the whole river. It’s surprisingly remote and mostly natural with few houses or intrusions; the only negative is the constant noise of jet traffic overhead (choose a day with north winds if you can when paddling this stretch, as the jets will be taking off in the other direction). Herons, kingfishers and orioles escort us along the banks. Sycamores, catalpas and redbuds provide the greenery. Future Water Trail mile markers and sign posts will be a welcome addition as landmarks are few and far between. Highway and railroad bridges are soon passed and we enter the backwaters of the Flat Rock impoundment and Oakwoods Metropark, a wonderful stretch of oxbows and bayous.

Our weather karma wanes a little, as the east wind gets funneled down the lake giving us a stiff headwind for the crossing. Mike George waves goodbye and heads for the Nature Center, and we set our sights on the right end of the Flat Rock Dam anticipating the portage and lunch stop ahead. Flat Rock Metals has graciously left the gate unlocked so the portage is surprisingly quick and easy; we move our gear to the bank below the low dam by the covered bridge and enjoy our well-deserved lunch. Ten miles to go.

The current helps us along for the next few miles and the woods gradually give way to more open marsh and wetlands. A few more houses along the banks with some impressive metal breakwalls, and soon the Jefferson St bridge is in view. We pause to collect the group and marvel at the remains of the circa 1800 plank road built from the War of 1812, known as Hull’s Trace, visible along the shoreline, and ready ourselves for the last push across the river mouth to Pt. Mouillée. Kay, Klaus and Aileen are there to greet us with our shuttle vehicles awaiting in the parking lot.


Total river miles: 101.8
Total hours paddling: 28 Total portages: 11

What a great adventure. I couldn’t have asked for better paddling companions and our shore support was wonderful. Thanks to all who made this adventure truly special: Laura Rubin and Elizabeth Riggs for help with logistics, Klaus Wolter who helped shuttle cars, and especially Kay Stremler who fed us a feast at the end of Day 2, shuttled cars and provided the motorized portage to Lower Huron.

We started this trip asking what has changed along the river since we last paddled the length with the 1993 Riverfest.

First, the good news – not much has changed. No big developments, no horrible intrusions. Parklands that dominate the shorelines are intact and mostly natural.  Water quality appeared to be good and a wide variety of wildlife greeted us along the banks. Many people were enjoying the water, whether paddling, rowing, walking or biking along trails, bank fishing or just relaxing.

Now the bad news – not much has changed.  Although there are adequate access sites up and down the river, usable, safe landings and proper portage trails remain few and far between.  A notable exception is the Superior Dam portage, a well-designed trail that is a huge improvement over the jungle that used to be there. Yet the Peninsular Portage has deteriorated badly, French Landing can’t be portaged safely, and you still have to make special arrangements to get around Flat Rock. Landings at well-used sites such as the Kent Lake Dam, Island Lake, Hudson Mills, and Ford Lake are either haphazard riprap or muddy eroded banks. Campsites are few and far between– currently there are five riverside campgrounds and none at some strategic distances making a trip of more than a few days difficult.

Would I recommend paddling the entire length of the Huron? Of course – there is a special thrill of paddling a river from a small trout stream all the way to open water. But I suggest that the less adventurous break the trip up over two weekends – first, Proud Lake to Ypsilanti;  and then the Lower Huron to Lake Erie – which would avoid many of the present pitfalls and encounters with motorboats.  Of course, the river can be experienced through a series of daytrips, as well.  The new HRWC Paddler’s Companion and ongoing work to build a Water Trail will only make the experience better in the future. What a great resource we have right in our own backyard

To paraphrase our State Motto: If you seek a pleasant river, look about you . . .

– Ron Sell, Paddler and Owner of Unadilla Boatworks

Original Article: Huron River Report Fall 2013