Boating on the Detroit River since a young child in the 1970’s, I remember a retro pink, one- piece bathing suit with big hoops on each side, barbie sunglasses and an oversized life vest and being ready to cruise on hot summer’s day. My dad’s unmistakable bright yellow seventeen-foot boat had just ramped in at the Marina in Wyandotte, Michigan by Pier 500 (Now Wyandotte Waterfront).
We were headed to his favorite fishing spot at Sugar Island, just the two of us. Dad pointed the boat south to voyage toward Sugar Island which is located near Grosse Ile, Michigan. The Detroit waters were brown and murky and there were large fish, bloated and bulgy eyed floating with us along the way. Along the shore was steel as far as the eye could see, first from BASF in Wyandotte. Large sewers dumped bubbling goop into the river, it seemed without much thought to filters.
Further ahead was McClouth Steel, in Trenton. Huge acres of rusted building and opened windows, the factory hummed, and the fire of forging steel could be seen flickering from the boat. Riverside Hospital, still active and birthing babies in the seventies, was said to have a haunted office on site, but also was sure to be latent with asbestos as many hospitals did, back in the day.
Next up was Elizabeth Park in Trenton, a beautiful Detroit River Park with just a green hill and some walking trails, a great place to explore and watch birds. There were always many fishermen on the small dock there too.
The candy canes were right next to the park, those iconic DTE Energy plant stacks at full steam, big black plumes and large piles of coal along the shoreline. The water was streaked with gas or oil surrounding the shore. Fisherman identified this as a great place to fish. The waters were always warm from energized water processed through the plant but it glowed yellow-gold from whatever else was cooled there.
We arrived at Sugar Island and despite what we had seen in the upriver ride from Wyandotte, the water in this place was strikingly clear as it lay at the mouth of Lake Erie which I persumed was cleansed a bit in that fast moving current.
We dropped our lines that day, I caught my first fish. But we let it go, Dad said it wasn’t good to eat. The pollution struck me as unfortunate and struck me that it would never be cleaned up in my lifetime.
However, it has been cleaned up. The efforts of so many people who care about our Detroit River and the demolition of blighted manufacturing and businesses on the waterfront. Fifty years later we can all enjoy a beautiful excursion up and down the Downriver Detroit River.
Today my favorite route up and down the Detroit River, it takes about two hours without stops. The fast-moving waters are now so clear you can see the bottom in spots. Starting out in Gibraltar, Michigan where we dock our boat in rack and launch, we head to the Cross Dike, which is an area where you can anchor in the calm waters or anchor across the small entry way at the Sugar Island beach and take in the sun, enjoy the water, hike a trail or stop for lunch. They have added a barrier around the island to protect it from erosion and help fish spawning.
From there you can take in all the large, beautiful homes on Grosse Ile to the West and Canada to the East as you head north on the Detroit River.
As the channel ends you hit Wyandotte and if you continue to Ecorse there is a no wake zone so you can float past the remodeled John Dingell Park at Ecorse before you move on to the industrial tour of Great Lakes Steel property which has been recently painted a striking blue.