Visiting the Dowagiac River System

Location

The Dowgiac River is paralleled by M-51 from above the City of Dowagiac to the City of Niles, Michigan where it joins the St. Joseph.

Parks and Preserves Directly on the River

One of the best ways to get acquainted with the Dowagiac is up close and personal. You can easily visit the riverside at the at Arthur Dodd Memorial Park in Cass County located eight miles southwest of Dowagiac or five miles northeast of Niles on Creek Road just outside of Sumnerville. 616-445-8611. Developed for recreation, the county park has facilities for picnicking and access to the Dowagiac River. Open mid-April through October.

Losensky Park in Niles township is a small community park below the Pucker Street Dam which provides access to the lower river.

Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary is a 220-acre year-round preserve owned by the Michigan Nature Association. The largest virgin soil woodland left in Michigan today, it includes a wet woods and natural marsh with limited views of the river. But it is an excellent opportunity to observe plant and animal species native to the watershed. The preserve is developed for hiking only. Take M-62 west of Dowagiac, then head south on California Road to Frost Street.

Other Parks and Preserves in the Watershed

Fred Russ Forest Park and Newton Woods, located midway between Dowagiac and Marcellus on Marcellus Highway. This national landmark forest of 737 acres of virgin black walnut and white oak is used by Michigan State University as a research station. Some of the trees are between 200 and 400 years old. The upper reaches of the Dowagiac Creek are within the 10 acre Newton Woods county park section of the Forest which also features the Newton House Museum.

Rudolphi Woods is popular with runners, hikers and cross country skiers, near Southwestern Michigan College. Trails offer opportunities to observer native wildlife. Located off M-62 E., south of Dowagiac on Dailey Road.

Wilding Plant Preserve is a three-acre wayside stop off M-51 south of Dowagiac near the Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary. There is an observation deck and a path leading to the crossing of old Dowagiac Creek and a flood plain.

Coastal Plain Marsh Nature Sanctuary in Hamilton Township of Van Buren County. A Michigan Nature Association site, this 79-acre marsh protects numerous rare Atlantic coastal plain plants most unusual to Michigan. The Hamilton Township Hall has parking on the southwest corner of 52nd St. and 84th Ave. It is about 900 feet to the area which is undeveloped.


 
River Tripping

The Dowagiac is a moderately easy canoeing trip from Doe-Wah-Jack's* Canoe Rental on M-51 north of Dowagiac to M-62 west of the Dowagiac, Michigan and on to Dodd Park, near Sumnerville. The greatest challenges are finding appropriate places to launch and take out. The trip itself is complicated only by fallen trees and low hanging branches. *See our Links page.

The mid & lower river is also served the Niles Canoe* livery. The Dowagiac below Pucker St. Dam in Niles is a natural river and is said be rather more challenging and appropriate for intermediate or better paddlers. *See our Links page.

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Pictures courtesy of Randy Rea of Doe-Wah-Jack's Canoe Rental
Experts consider that the Dowagiac "offers one of the most interesting trips in southwest Michigan. It flows through a variety of terrain, much of it wooded and nearly all of it undeveloped and surprisingly remote." Please respect riparian owner's property rights along the river.

See our Guidelines for Responsible Canoeing.

Go With the Flow - A Virtual River Trip

"As with many rivers in the southern third of the state, camping opportunities are limited, and there are not nearly enough good access sites and parking areas. But, in spite of such limitations, the Dowagiac remains an attractive and pleasant river, well-suited for beginners and families seeking a casual one- or two-day trip. Water in the Dowagiac is clouded, but quality is good and supports brown trout as the predominant game fish." (Jerry Dennis and Craig Date "Canoeing Michigan Rivers," see below.)

M-51 "Doe Wah Jacks'" 

The river from M-51 flows through the Dowagiac Swamp and the chance of observing wildlife in this stretch is great. It is a two - three hour float from M-51 to M-62, an all-day float to Dodd Park near Sumnerville with one intermediate option for disembarking at Sink Road. For more information visit the commercial website for this local business and MEANDRS partner - see our Links page.

About 1.5 miles west of the M-51 Bridge (NOT pictured above) you will pass the land once owned by Mr. A. Thomz. His wife and two children were three of the five local Dowagiac residents saved when the Titanic sank on April 14, 1912. (Southwestern Michigan College Museum-SMCM)
Middle Crossing Bridge
When this area was originally settled the Dowagiac Swamp, stretching generally from west of Dowagiac to Decatur, posed a great inconvenience to travelers wishing to cross the swamp. The Middle Crossing Road was one of only three routes to cross the swamp and was the main route to central Silver Creek township. The crossings were each nearly a mile in length, the distance across the swamp. It was said that travelers riding a skittish horse often had to lead their mount over the route because if a horse and rider got off the corduroy construction they could sink out of sight in the mire. (Cook and Cook, Pokagon Township Reflections).

From near the Middle Crossing Bridge early settlers floated logs in the river to the saw-mill at Sumnerville, about 12 miles downstream. (SWCM)

M-62 Bridge
Just south of M-62, you will see the old bridge used by the Interurban Trolley which ran between Benton Harbor and Dowagiac. Service started in 1911 and ended in 1928. (SMCM)
According to Dennis and Date, the best plan, if you are not using the commercial livery, is to put in at the Dowagiac Creek bridge on M-62 and proceed a short distance to the River. "We put in on Dowagiac Creek, which is clear, shallow and sandy with a moderate but steady current. Trees form an almost continuous canopy over-head; where they have fallen, they reach easily from bank to bank. Don't despair -- the downed trees last less than a quarter-mile until the junction with the Dowagiac River." (Dennis and Date)
The Dowagiac Creek rises in the Northeast corner of Cass County. Unlike the Dowagiac River, the creek has considerable fall and played a key roll in the development of Cass County, supplying water power for 30 milling operations and a generating plant that once supplied the electricity for the city of Dowagiac. (SMCM)
The volume of water doubles after the junction and the river proceeds in a straight course through dense woods.
The next bridge (Frost Street) is private. As you approach the bridge, the forest area to your right is the Dowagiac Woods, the last untouched woodland in this area - it is protected by the Michigan Nature Association. Be careful to leave its banks undisturbed. The preserve is not designed for river access.
"The next bridge is at Peavine Road with no access and parking."
Just south of the Peavine bridge, the stream originally curved sharply to the west and snaked along for about half a mile before turning southeast and then southwest. Here you may be able to observe the disconnected meanders as you travel the main (dredged) channel.
Sink Road Bridge, 1.5 - 2.5 hours below M-62, has good access and parking. County maps show camping both here and at Rogers Lake Recreation Area; (private).
South of the new channel cut at Peavine Street, the river makes a wide horseshoe curve to the right. The area is one of the trip's most scenic. At the south end, the river flows under the Sink Road Bridge. A small rapids at this point marks the pick-up point for canoes.
From Sink Rd. the river continues much the same, straight and through a wooded valley. Crystal Spring Road Bridge has poor access and parking.
For those continuing approximately 1.5 miles further downstream the area on your left is Crystal Springs, the Methodist Campgrounds. During the 1870's thousands met here for summer religious revivals. The famous springs were apparently damaged and went dry following the dredging of the River. This was also the site of the first state fish hatchery in use between 1873 and 1881. The Methodist camp is still active today.
Indian Lake Road Bridge has fair access, but parking on roadside only - very limited. Dennis and Date also warn: "Watch for a low-hanging cable below Indian Lake Road Bridge."

On your left another mile downstream is the mouth of Pokagon Creek near the site of Chief Pokagon's village and the earliest pioneer settlements. The creek once supplied the water-power for eleven milling operations. You will pass under the Indian Lake Road Bridge just west of Sumnerville. Surnerville was established in 1836. A short distance farther south is Arthur Dodd Memorial Park, the canoe landing. (SMCM)
Dodd Park

This county park has access, parking, restrooms and picnic grounds. "The river from here begins to increase in current speed, and tight bends, logs, and leaning or fallen trees require basic maneuvering skills to negotiate. This stretch could be tricky for beginners, especially in high water."

Kinzie Road Bridge

"At Kinzie Road Bridge, there is fair access and roadside parking." The river winds here between newly verdant banks of vegitation. Formerly the area contained an impoundment above the Pucker St. Dam which was drawn down in 1999. The portage to the lower river at Pucker St. Dam above Niles is stable with little concern about mire. The former mud flats are now stable with new growth vegitation. Disembarking in this area is now relatively safe.

The river continues below the dam, unimpeded to the St. Joe. The mid and lower stretches are served by the Niles Canoe livery under new managment. For details visit the commercial website for this local business and MEANDRS partner (see our Links page).

Below Pucker St. Dam

This is a reknowned stretch for those seeking a wet and wild tubing experience in Michiana. It is one of our only stretches of natural white water appropriate for tubing and offers a fine chance to observe the natural river.

From the Dam to US-31, approximately a 1.5 hour trip past suburban Niles. The current is fairly quick with boulders and rapids. The bottom remains sand and gravel, with gravel more prevalent downstream. This stretch is also very active for fly fishermen in stealhead and cohoe season.

"There is a private campground at Nub Lake, near the river, with supplies and modern camping facilities. Access is fair at US-31, and parking is limited to the roadside."

Dennis and Date agree with Niles Canoe livery that the trip from US-31 to the St. Joe and down to Buchanan is a popular and enjoyable one.

For additional details and other river trips consult the excellent canoeing source: Jerry Dennis and Craig Date "Canoeing Michigan Rivers" Friede Pub., Davison, MI., 1986.

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