If you spend some time canoeing/kayaking or exploring, and know how to identify log driving remnants, you can observe considerable features that were constructed to transport logs that are still present along many rivers in Northern Michigan. Log drivers activities more than a century ago, resulted in the trout stream habitat both fish and anglers use today. It enhances an informed angler experience to know the historical significance of prominent fish habitat feature you encounter on your favorite trout stream. This can be the case on any river in Northern Michigan where pine logging occurred (approximately 1870’s to early 1900’s). As a prime example, this article will focus on the Paint River in the Menominee River Watershed (Iron County).
Pine log drives down the Paint River were preceded by the considerable construction of logging dams and other log moving features like log slides. By using the County plat book, State of Michigan DNR county maps, US Forest Service maps, and US Geological Survey Quad Maps you can find some of the historical dam sites marked to aid your explorations. Significant remnants of features like logging dams, log slides, and drive logs can still be observed today since some of them involved major alterations that are durable on the rivers or landscape. Typical log dam remnants are large timbers, large steel spikes, rock cribs, angled wood piling, scour pools, earth and rock dam berms along with noticeable nearby burrow pits. In a few rare cases workers conducting regular maintenance on the dams carved or stamped their initials or names and dates in rocks near the dam sites.
The Menominee River Watershed was a major log transport system of pine logs in the late 1800s into the very early 1900s when 10,608,229,506 board feet of lumber were driven down the Menominee Watershed between 1868 to1917. Reportedly, the watershed drives supported over 30 saw mills down near the mouth of the Menominee River. This volume could be supported since the Menominee is the fourth largest watershed in the State of Michigan. As railroads were built in the area, lumber companies calculated a comparison of the costs of log transportation to Menominee. Initially, river log drives were the only way to move logs to the mills. Eventually, railroads and supply roads were constructed although river transport of pine logs was still the most economical method to move large numbers of logs down to the mills. The log drives on the tributaries of the Menominee, like the Paint River, were timed to catch the high spring run-off high water period. The harvested pine logs were decked along the streams during the winter so they could be rolled in to start the log drive at spring breakup.
One Menominee River log drive was operated by a cooperative company called the Menominee River Boom Company. The Paint River was a major river for log drives from the upper western portion of the Menominee Watershed. The Paint River received logs from smaller drives on the tributaries – North and South Branch Paint, Cooks Run, Paint Creek, Holmes Creek, Bush Creek, Morrison Creek, Net River, Hemlock River, and St. Paul Creek. Logging dams were constructed on the tributaries and mainstream of the Paint River. Two types of dams were used by log drivers. Reservoir dams were sometimes constructed on tributaries although often they were constructed at the outlets of some lakes to provide additional water to flush into the system in a coordinated effort to keep log drives going. Log driving dams were often constructed above extremely shallow stream stretches or rapids that would cause large log jams. Log driving dams had sluiceways where logs could be driven though them on a large head of water released abruptly in the spring flushing the logs downstream.
Paddling the two rivers is the most practical and enjoyable way to view many of the remote log drive remnants. One of the best sections of the Paint River for both log drive artifacts and navigability is the 25.5 mile section from the Gold Mine Road – US Forest Service (USFS) Road 3470 crossing of the South Branch of the Paint River down to the Bate-Amasa Road (Iron County Rd. 643) bridge on the Paint River. If you are not pressed for time you could also trout fish on the South Branch of the Paint River or fish for smallmouth in the Paint River. There is a number of good access points mentioned in this article (or the maps above) if you only want to take a day trip. If extensive exploring the historical remnants or considerable time allotted to angling is your goal, you should not try to paddle to far in a day, my rule of thumb is no more than about ten river miles a day.
Above this most navigable stretch, Cooks Run enters the South Branch of the Paint River. Cooks Run had three logging dams with one of those being the log driving dam that formed the famous trout fishing “meadows”. Many of the log driving dams formed scour pools behind them. Most of these pools still exist and are used by trout and anglers today as holding cover and fishing spots. Cooks Run and the South Branch of the Paint River are outstanding combination brook and brown trout streams. Cooks Run can be floated with a canoe from US Forest Highway 16 down to the Paint River but only at higher water levels. There were five logging dams upstream of the Cooks Run on the South Branch. Some of those logging dam sites also still have scour pools formed that are used by trout anglers although those upper stretches of the South Branch are difficult to navigate with a canoe.
Paddling downstream from the put in on the Gold Mine Road 1.4 miles you first encounter Uno Dam. Uno Dam was a log driving dam (photo) and considerable remnants are still visible. Our DNR brown trout telemetry movement studies indicated that large browns use the pool at Uno Dam regularly along with many of the other holes mentioned. Continuing downstream 2.1 miles from Uno Dam brings you to the “Old Gold Mine Hole” just below the downstream Gold Mine Road crossing. The Gold Mine Hole was created by a misinformed miner that spent considerable effort digging out a large hole in the river only to find out he was mining pyrite (fools gold). The Paint River Forks (confluence with the North Branch of the Paint) is 4.4 miles downstream from the Gold Mine Hole. The Forks is has a small rustic USFS Campground. Below the Forks you come to the old logging “ghost town” of Atkinson or Gibb City. There were two logging dams one just above and one below the Ponozzo Road crossing. Atkinson Dam has a scour hole (another brown trout fishing spot) and considerable wood remnants still visible.
The small rustic Blockhouse USFS Campground is five miles downstream of Paint Forks. In the next section you pass by the mouth of the Net River and Morrison Creek. Just below Parks Creek (5.2 miles downstream from the mouth of Net River) paddlers come to the remnants of Pain Dam Number Two. Someone has built up the remnants of the old dam with broken chunks of concrete. There is a large plunge pool downstream of the dam that holds smallmouth bass, rock bass and other warm water fish. Dam Number Two was the most upstream dam operated by the Menominee River Boom Company. Downstream of Paint Dam No Two is the Upper and Lower Hemlock Rapids. These are Class 2 and Class 3 rapids respectively. These rapids both run through state land and the upper Hemlocks (recently acquired by the State) is used by paddlers as a undeveloped remote campsite. Both Hemlock Rapids have beautiful whitewater and rock outcrop settings for photography. The Hemlock Rapids are excellent smallmouth angling and they are only accessible by canoe/kayak. You can finish up this section of river by paddling 2.2 miles downstream of the Lower Hemlock Rapids to the take out at County Road 643.
If you wanted to paddle further you could paddle down the Little Bull Diversion Dam on the Lower Paint River. A log landing was located about two miles downstream of the M 69 Bridge at Crystal Falls. Logs were slid down an iced slide trough to the landing on the river. That log slide trough can still be observed running uphill on Kimball Road past the Crystal Falls sewage treatment ponds. Paint Dam Number One is 26 miles below the Paint Dam Number Two. It would be best to take out at the Little Bull Diversion Dam at the WE Energies boat access site number 22. Below that dam is the Horse Race Rapids that are rated Class Four which is above the level that experienced white water open canoe paddlers should attempt.
The log drives were major river operations. A historical example from Menominee Boom Company records for 1896 showed that the Kirby Carpenter Logging Company conducted the log drives on the North, South, and main Paint Rivers. Eventually, the logs were driven down to the mainstream, in this case Brule Falls. Reportedly, the tributary drives were to have the logs to the main drive by May 1 for the Menominee River Boom Company drive. This combination of logs in the river is why the logs had to be marked with symbols representing the various logging companies. They were to be sorted out by the owners at the mill. The log drives were extremely hard work and very dangerous. A number of men were killed or drowned on the log drives and reportedly some were buried in unmarked graves at some the logging dam sites.
Log drives were conducted on most Northern Michigan Rivers during the major white and red pine logging period in the late 1800’s. On your next trip canoeing down Northern Michigan rivers, keep on the lookout for remnants of the logging days. If you look on the bottom of some of our area rivers you will see deadhead (sunken logs from about 12 to 16 feet in length) logs that became waterlogged, sank, and were left behind. Some Michigan streams have a number of these sunken drive logs.