There is an old phrase to the effect "You Can't Go Back." Castwell and I just
did that this past week. And yes you can!
I did not set up unrealistic expectations. I did not
expect every building, road, twig and tree to be the same as it
was some twenty-five years ago. The town of Grayling Michigan has grown,
the American mark of progress, strip malls are there along with the required
number of fast food places. New homes and cottages have appeared, along
with several new motels. All told, Grayling looks prosperous and well-fed.
There were major changes on the rivers though.
We were married at Keystone Landing on the Main Stream of the
Au Sable River. The campground has been moved a hundred yards
away from the river banks, with a real road and camping facilities.
Perhaps not as picturesque as years ago, but certainly better for the
river. We were able to stand on the exact spot we stood to say
the magic words. It wasn't necessary to say the words again, just
holding hands completed the circle.
Later that day we also made a run to the South
Branch of the Au Sable. The old campground there, Canoe Harbor
also has been relocated back away from the stream. I can't swear to
it, but the current canoe campground seems to be upstream a bit from
the old one. The canoe campground is accessable only from the river,
giving a sense of wilderness at least to those using it. Very nicely done.
We spent a little time hiking the Mason Tract trail,
which begins just off Highway 72 (called the South Down River Road)
locally. There is a large parking area with a map of the Tract. The
trail is well marked, and easy walking. Again, a great deal of work has
been done to close off over-used trails leading to the water, which
caused bank errosion and siltation of the river. Obviously those who
accept the responsibility for river keepers on the Main Steam and South
Branch do so very seriously. A tip of my hat to all involved!
It may be a figment of my mind, but there did seem
to be less canoe traffic on the South Branch. We encountered more
canoes on the Main Stream, but did not see some of the things that used
to make us furious. Canoes tied together, (rafted) with an on-going party
of people who already had too much to drink.
We asked Steve Southard, owner of the Fly Factory
and Ray's Canoe Livery about the difference. He explained the livery
operators had gotten together and set up rules - most could be enforced
from a safety point - which include limiting the amount of alcohol that could
be taken per canoe, and outlawing rafting. While I did not check out what
the other livery operators were doing, Ray's does have a mandatory video
their customers watch before setting out on the river. The video includes
safety, paddling instruction, what to take with you, alcohol regulations,
information about the local Marine Patrol, and respecting wildlife and
fly fishers. Good job folks!
Let's face it. We have a growing population, and
limited resources. That boils down to sharing the resources in a
responsible manner. There is no reason canoeing and fishing cannot
be compatible - if the word responsible is
the prime order of business.
While we are on the subject of responsibility, I
want to mention a group called the Anglers of the Au Sable, also very
involved with preservation and restoration of the Au Sable river system.
Rusty Gates of the famed Gates Lodge on the Au Sable shared some of
the recent projects the 'Anglers' have worked on. Look for another
"Good News" story here soon on one of those projects.
JC and I are very proud to be associated with
the 'Anglers' and suggest if the Au Sable river system is your "home
water" too, (even if you are far removed as we are), check out the
Anglers of the Au Sable website and join.
Perhaps having a connection with our home waters
through old friends over the years has allowed us to feel we are still part
of our 'home water'. In many ways the connection has been strengthened
through the many folks we have met on FAOL. We got to meet some
of them in person on this trip.
Even though our only contact with our web friends
usually is via our Chat Room, the connection is stronger than that. The
connection is we are all fly fishers. Fly fishers traditionally have been
part of a community. Not exactly one for all and all for one as in the
Three Musketeers, but then again if I am catching fish and you aren't
I'm likely to share my flies with you. Well at least if you promise not
to catch a bigger fish.
What pleased me most on 'going back' was
the bamboo rodmakers (Gray Rock) have been very successful in
establishing a community, a tradition. And that the anglers we have
met via the world wide web are also re-establishing a sense of
community. Renewing the traditions, and becoming once again a
fraternity. What a joy!
A sincere thank you to those of you we got to
meet in Grayling - and to those who have kept our home waters alive
and well. Not just mechanics of keeping the rivers alive and well,
but the process of maintaining the traditions of fly fishing.
It is those traditions, the brotherhood of fly
angling that made it possible for us to go home.~Deanna Birkholm