Michigan author Doc Fletcher has kayaked thousands of miles on rivers across the midwest and written eight books about the experiences. A 2015 book included his enthusiasm for another pastime. We talk with the Northville resident about “Paddling and Pastimes: 6 Midwest Cities, the Rivers that Made Them, The Baseball Teams that Entertained Them.”
According to the state Department of Transportation, there are 36,000 miles of streams in Michigan. On any given day, you’re apt to find Doc Fletcher exploring one of them. The Northville resident is a lifelong kayaker and canoeist and is the author of eight books.
On his last visit to Current State, we discussed his 2015 book “Paddling and Pastimes: 6 Midwest Cities, the Rivers that Made Them, The Baseball Teams that Entertained Them.”
Fletcher says he’d been looking for an excuse to work his enthusiasm for America’s pastime into one of his books.
This August, Doc Fletcher will return to both Current State and the Library of Michigan to discuss his latest book "Canoeing and Kayaking College Campuses in Michigan."
On what kayaking and ballparks have in common
I've been looking for an excuse to get baseball into my books for a long time. You know, you get on the river and there's a peacefulness. You're not on the clock. And it's dreamy place to be, and I'm thinking, "well it's just like a ballpark." If I could've put myself back a hundred years on either a river or a ballpark, there's a timeless happiness they both have. You could be at a ball game in 1915 and you'd hear the same noise in the field, and the crowd in the stands, and the vender shouting. A river is a lot like that too. When I get on the water it's a chance to reach out and touch history.
There's minimal riverside development as you're going down most of Michigan's rivers. You feel like you're experiencing something the original residents of the state experienced when they went down the river. So I saw a lot of parallels.
On visiting ballparks in Chicago
We took tours in every one of these ballparks so we could gain more information on the parks and share them with the readers. And we had tour guides. I found that every major league baseball park in the country has both private and public tours of their stadium.
You want to go ideally when the team's not there because you can get on the field, you can get in the press box. Oh, and the views from the press box are just unbelievable. But you hear stories. One of the stories we heard was when the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, the heavens parted and the Lord said to the Cubs, "don't do anything until I get back." That's just beautiful.
On Michigan kayakers considering the Detroit River as a destination
Well, something that I didn't even know existed was found off the Detroit River. We launched at a place called Mahras-Gengtry Park on the eastside and we went against the current up towards Lake St. Claire. They have historic eastside canals that run off of the river. One of these canals is called Little Venice, where instead of homes that are across the street from each other being divided by 30 feet of concrete, they are divided by 30 feet of a river. And you actually feel like you are in Venice. Some of the homes we passed by in Little Venice were purchased by the organized crime group the "The Purple Gang" during prohibition. And you can pass by these homes where they built look out towers on top of the homes to give them a better view of the police boats that were coming -- and they were coming.
80% of all the illegal alcohol came to the United States during prohibition across the Detroit River or adjacent Lake St. Clair, St. Clair River. Just absolutely fascinating.
On Midwest rivers improving
All six of these rivers were very sick bodies of water up until the 1970s, 1980s. Pittsburgh as an example, as recently as the 1950s of all three of the rivers, there was only one species of fish was the strong enough to survive: the bluegill. One. Today, 53 species of fish survive. There's been cooperative efforts on all six of these rivers of volunteers, government agencies, and businesses to work together to help make better decisions on how they interact with the rivers they're on.
As recently as the 1980s if you were paddling down The Chicago River and fell into the water, you were immediately taken to emergency. And today you can see the increase in the number of species of fish, species of birds, and insects are just proliferating on Chicago River, the Cuyahoga River, the Detroit River, Milwaukee River, it's fabulous. It's just very, very exciting what's happening in these waterways.