Past and future of Jordan Valley Forest

By Mitch MacKay of East Jordan

JORDAN RIVER’S SOURCE IS A SPRING behind Seven Ski Inn west of US-131 but lately it’s not advisable to get there by vehicle due to the wet ground on the dirt track leading to the valley.

It was always rustic and as signs say a “seasonal road” but in recent years the rains have precluded the traffic the trails used to bear, one-lane trails traversable by car and truck but requiring some deft (and courteous friendly neighborhood) navigation to allow for oncoming traffic to pass.

A lot has changed in the fifty-five years I’ve been around here, for some family has remained here throughout.


Like many locals we’ve been down and back numerous times.

Larry’s Bar is what we called the tavern and car lot garage in West Elmira where now the East Jordan Iron Works, renamed “ej”, relocated from their long-term home in East Jordan on the lake.

Just down the road south from Larry’s there’s a trail leading to the valley and next a road leading to Dead Man’s Hill, the historic site of the tragedy which namesake is attributed to Stanley Graczyk, Big Sam, who cascaded over the bluff with a team of horses and a big load of timber as he was heading downhill.

There’s now a tour stop with fences and signs indicating the occasion and history.

The view is wonderful, the entirety of the Jordan Valley and on a sunny day the Jordan River is visible as it snakes through the valley toward town.

The Green River conflates along the waterway as do other tributaries join the flow which concludes at the estuary of South Arm Lake, the East Jordan arm of Lake Charlevoix, the dual extension of the inlet at the town of Charlevoix at Lake Michigan which was dredged long ago to allow ships to pass in and out but was always a conduit for the flooding of the inland lakes.

In 1867 came Soloman Isaman from Charlevoix to set up a homestead on Pine Lake as it was then known, a pioneer subsequent to the land grants then proliferating after the Civil War as the soldiers came home and ventured north to homestead. Isaman built a log cabin abode and set aside some area within for a sort of trading post that soon attracted attention of other potential homesteaders and there you had it, a town was born subsequent to Amos Williams an itinerant preacher having named the Jordan River in effigy of the River Jordan.

The mythos remains.

In about 1962 my family found via the Detroit paper want ads a farm in the Jordan Valley on Marsh Road outside of town on M-32, closer to Larry’s Bar than East Jordan, and ultimately renovated the old log domicile to habitable condition, water, electric and all.

John Vanek, a Bohemian émigré and family had homesteaded the 240 acres adjacent to Marsh Ponds, a series of overflow ponds from the Jordan River, quite a rural paradise it was back then and all owned by my father and mother when once finances were finalized at the obviously gouging price of $35 an acre or $8400 for 240, taxes $60 per year, newly coined gas drilling lease netting $240 a year with $2400 every five years to re-lease.

My parents fell for the sucker pitch. Seller, son Vincent Vanek, saw them coming.

We would drive up from the Detroit area, stop at Larry’s en-route, then known as Stan’s, find Stan asleep with head on arm on the counter, fill up with gas at maybe .25 a gallon, wake him to pay him, have a .30 beer, then proceed to the farm.

Big Sam was engaged to one of John Vanek’s daughter’s when he died untimely.

John was a log cabin homebuilder, the squared log kind of house, fit together like Lincoln Logs, real ones, notched corners and all.

He built multiple cabins in his day, at least one other “historic homestead” still standing, another actually dismantled and moved log-by-labeled-log downstate for re-assemblage.

The property was divided years ago along the Marsh Road boundary.

Meanwhile, the Jordan River has had problems, the lakes too, ups and downs of level, the one-time lake in the town harbor, once high and deep water, has sunk to a replicate marshy-like condition with even some dry land and tree sprouts showing.

The East Jordan Marina needs dredging periodically to allow boats in and out due to the sand and silt carried downstream, in turn caused by erosion, farm residue, tourist detritus, a weir, and a composite of bridges, roads and population increase and other general lack of monitoring the waters in preservation mode.

The water level has returned to somewhat normal and indeed the level has constantly reasserted nature’s own propensity over the decades, now somewhat higher than ever as evidenced by the Jordan Valley dampness, but the estuary which was once a deep lake able to dock up to twenty large boats of lading is a shallow pond.

What the EJ company family, which owns a large tract of lakeside in town, has in mind is anyone’s guess.

And the Jordan River?

It still flows, the famed trout stream is reduced in fishing stature, the sand and silt still waft downstream.

It’s still worth a visit when the ground is dry enough.

It will never be the same as when in its pristine primeval state nor will the lake, first marina boat launch, pleasure cruises now having to endure boat-cops patrolling the waterways looking for yahoo beer drinkers—yes, BUI, Boating Under the Influence.

The prices are rising for almost everything even as values go down for everything except lakefront properties and high-end dining and drinking, price and waterfront value high and consistent as are property taxes.

You can still ride a rented canoe down the Jordan, fish in the river and lake, stop at The Landing for lunch and a drink, explore the State Forest by car or on foot.

It’s still all here, just not quite what it used to be.

Nothing is. No one knows where it’s going in once-rustic to pseudo-sophisticated personality although the original ambiance still exists where weather and costs permit.

There are concerned persons who patrol and monitor the riverside picking up trash and cleaning the river of constant debris, slipping in between the EPA oversight rounds to do what residents haven’t been quite able to keep up with, that is keep the river flowing clear.

The Jordan River Action Group, Friends of the Jordan, East Jordan Lions Club and other concerned persons continue in these efforts to collect beer cans and refuse floating downstream.

Published via East Jordan City internet site are phone and email for Tinker Breakey of the first named group for contact and donations.

Supporting them and returning your beer cans is the least we can do though collected cans are exchanged for donation dollars.

Too little too late but the difference is noticed and felt.

Dead Man’s Hill and Hogback Hill offer opposite views of the valley unadulterated by mankind even now because you don’t see up close the results of our abuse down below.

The Jordan River Valley was and still is to some extent God’s Little Acre, Amos Williams, Soloman Isaman, you and me too if we can keep it.


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