Monday, May 25, 2009

LaSalle Relay - The "Corridor"

There is a natural geographical west to east corridor across part of the Southern Lower Peninsula through which LaSalle and his men walked and waded in the Spring of 1680. It is bounded at the western end by Gull Lake to the north and the northern bend of the Kalamazoo River Valley to the south. In the central part it is bound on the north by Pleasant Lake and Duck Lake. At the south is Prairie Lake (much larger inLaSalle's day). Pointing naturally towards the west end of my imaginary corridor is the Paw Paw River valley and LaSalle's crossing-place of the Kalamazoo River at the present-day Kalamazoo Nature Center. At the east end is the Portage Lake Swamp (actually a large marsh). Beyond, starting about at today's Lyndon Center, is the Indian Trail that led to the Huron River at present-day Dexter.

LaSalle knew that the mouth of the Detroit River at Lake Erie, which was his goal, was at almost exactly the same latitude as his fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, thus as much as possible he wanted to travel straight east. He deviated from east only to avoid the Indian trails through the oak openings leading to the ford at the big bend of the Kalamazoo River and to get around the large tamarack swamp along that river's left bank north of the ford.

Once he got into what I call "the corridor" about at the location of present-day Richland, I don't believe he ever deviated from straight east. On my 1999 map with the Michigan History article I show him crossing the upper end of the Portage River. I now believe he never did but rather stayed north of the Portage all the way to what Neil Miller, Brian Prodin and I call the Schumacher Road Peninsula. If I could do that map over (and its enlargement that hangs in the Michigan History Museum) I would move the red line showing his route above the river. That would make the place where the two men got sick about at the location of the Waterloo Farm Museum, and have him wading over the marsh to about the Harr Road peninsula and shortly thereafter climbing to the higher ground. I think he would have sensed that higher ground was the divide between the Lake Michigan and Lake Erie watersheds. LaSalle's own words: "I went to look for some stream near which might fall into Lake Erie, where we wished to make a canoe, so as to relieve those who were wore out with toil."

Back to the corridor.

Son Jim wants to trace much of LaSalle's route by bicycle. We have laid out a tentative route using maps and he has been recruiting companions. On the Sunday before Memorial Day we decided to check out the Calhoun County portion on the ground by car. Wise decision.

Together with granddaughter Jessica, we headed down towards Battle Creek and pulled off M 66 at the road leading to Pennfield and the crossing of the Battle Creek River. This is where LaSalle would have left the higher ground and prairies and oak forests and started wading in the marshes.

After just a very few miles of following our mapped-out route - to our chagrin and dismay - what used to be smooth county roads turn into mile after mile after mile of deteriorating blacktop, unsuitable or even dangerous for bicycling. I don't know what the Calhoun County Road Commission plans do about that, but thus far all they have done is erect a lot of "Rough Road" signs.

After much of a day's exploration I would guess that about 75-90 percent of our laid-out route in Calhoun County is unuseable.

NEXT: Hunting for alternative routes.

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