The Jordan River—a little piece of paradise

jordan river

Guest Commentary By Mitch MacKay

Amos Williams named this trout stream, said to be the finest in the state, back then in the 1860s-70s when Michigan was barely a state and most of the little towns were not towns but Indian trails.


Amos Williams was an itinerant preacher possibly gone to or from the Civil War but no further trace of him exists, but for the river.

And it is a fine specimen of natural grace wending its way from West Elmira down the hillside to the Jordan Valley State Forest and on toward East Jordan harbor estuary with the addition of several tributaries along the way.

Dead Man’s Hill is accessible off US-131 and a trail is available by car down the hillside to the forest and interlocking dirt roads servicing the forest and the river, all majestic in its homespun glory.

No doubt devout cleric Williams named the waterway after the River Jordan of the Holy Land.

Enter progress.

Ten years ago a group of East Jordan residents organized a cleanup effort with containers to collect trash floating down the river into the lake.

Simultaneously the river had washed silt and sand into the harbor and the result began to be unavoidable.

Trash and sand were ruining the river and the lake and naturally the marina adjacent.

About that time the Michigan State University Ecology Department completed its four-year study of the river, educators giving a talk for the local folk at the high school.


First, dredging was scheduled to clear the harbor for boating but proved to be an annual concern, several methods being introduced.

Second, the trash removal effort was blocked by the State which, to any observer, seemed simply to insist on exerting its authority over residential efforts—they, it appeared to all, didn’t want people taking the matter into their own hands, even volunteer hands.

MSU resolved its study in declaring that the sand was “already there”, whatever that meant; the State said, Hold up, that’s our job and we’ll do it our way, Back Off.

Well, that’s how it looked to most residents anyway.

Longtime residents of East Jordan remember when the estuary actually was composed of a deep lake south of the bridge crossing the river and lake junction, with adjacent deep water north of the bridge.

The water was historically so deep that a dozen deep water sailing and steam ships were photographed moored close to shore south of the bridge whereas the original marina was situated at the Tourist Park north of the bridge now filled in with sand and out of use since the construction of the new marina, the one that fills in with sand and silt every year.

Tinker Breakey, lifelong resident of East Jordan, Sherm and Peggy Thomas and other organizers resorted to the non-profit 501(c)(3) status (2015) required to address the issue of trash on the river.

There are photos old and new of all this transmogrification of a once-pristine waterway, now besmirched to put it kindly.

Of course trash floating down river is man-made but sand and silt fill-in has multiple roots, probably more man than nature but improved agricultural techniques, tools and fertilizers have added to the runoff from land into the river upstream.

Bottles and plastics can’t be argued; we know from where they come, tourism, new construction, fishing and recreational boating.

The problem is how to get rid of it all.

The original cleanup crew attempted cleanup on a residential citizenry basis but as we know that is now against the law, until finding ways to work with the law.

The Jordan River emanates from its spring on Dead Man’s Hill behind Larry’s Seven-Ski Inn, nary a sign of sand or silt being washed down from that slope amidst a copse of trees still accessible in warm months.

The MSU research came to no conclusions beyond the estuary being “not a delta” but an estuary, sand and silt being “already there,” this taking four years to determine.

Meanwhile the JRAction Group perseveres, discussion continues about how to deal with the filling-in of the marina, whether to move it back to the Tourist Park, move it up-lake to deeper water, keep on dredging and so on.

It’s a real problem that didn’t used to be even imagined.

Stanley Graczyk (Big Sam) was the unfortunate namesake of this hill, a logger engaged to be married soon, died when his load of timber tumbled down the hillside, horses and all, in 1910.

His betrothed was said to have been one of the daughters of John Vanek, a Bohemian settler whose farm my family purchased in about 1962-63.

In that era, all was natural—no river or lake problems whatsoever.

It was a treasure, a little piece of paradise.


Photo Courtesy Friends of the Jordan River