RIBBON OF BLUE (St. Clair River)

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Memories As far back as I can remember, the wide ribbon of striking blue water has been a part of my life. While I was growing up, my mother and I would often picnic at one of the parks dotting its shore. Throughout my adult years, I have visited it from my in-laws' Pt. Lambton homes. Occasionally, Tessi and I enjoy a drive along its length, where we can casually take in the myriad sights and sounds it has to offer. This stretch of water that has been such an enjoyable destination is the 64 km (40 mi) St. Clair River. It joins Lake St. Clair and Lake Huron; and separates Canada from the United States. Neither shoreline is blessed with as much nature as some of the places I've been. Housing (with docks extending into the water), industry and other man-made intrusions litter the environment. Yet, there are stretches of nature with which to satisfy my soul. And with the astonishing vision of the wide, beautiful river, I've always found it a pleasant way to spend a day. St. Clair River Trail One way to leisurely take in the scenery is from the St. Clair River Trail, a multi-use trail running most (parts are still being worked on) of the river's length. During my outings, I've seen people biking, hiking and a few walking dogs. While on one particular drive on the St. Clair Parkway, which follows the river for most of its journey, I had brought a picnic and some writing to work on. Tessi and I stopped at one of the well-maintained scenic parks. Each one presents its own characteristics - some boast floral gardens, others sport children's playgrounds, most have tiny beaches bordering manicured lawns with picnic tables under elegant trees. These parks are very close to the busy highway, so it's a good idea to obey the signs stating dogs are to be leashed. As I was munching my food, I watched the action before me. Traffic on the American shoreline is far enough away to make vehicles look like ants; however, it was the river's traffic that interested me. Meanwhile, Tessi was engrossed in a squirrel. She didn't notice my food or anything else either, until a passing freighter blasted its horn. On pleasant summer days, recreational boats speed by the slower lake freighters (lakers). Lakers, averaging 213 to 305 m (700 to 1000 ft) long, were manufactured to carry huge shipments throughout the Great Lakes. Watching these giants calmly glide through the water as they carry their cargo offer a unique addition to the St. Clair River experience. Once Tessi relaxed from the surprise of the horn blast and I was ready to move on, we continued our excursion. I drove through Sombra, where two small ferries spend their days conveying passengers to and from Marine City, Michigan. We travelled through several more picturesque towns, when eventually the highway took us into Sarnia. We first passed through Chemical Valley - a nature lover's nightmare with its many chemical factories dirtying the air - before reaching the heart of the city. Dog Park Visit Once in Sarnia, we detoured to Blackwell Trails Park. Located in the northeast part of the city, the park was built on an old landfill site. There are about three km (almost two miles) of trails and a small fenced-in leash-free zone. At the time of our visit, young trees had been planted along the trails, but not in the dog area. It was just a flat grassy spot with a view of Logan's Pond off to one side. At least, however, dogs are given a place to run free. Flurry of Activity Before heading home, I found the river again at Point Edward Waterfront Park, where the twin Bluewater Bridges run traffic between Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan; and Lake Huron drains into the St. Clair River. The park was bustling with activity - boats plying the water, slow moving bumper to bumper traffic on the bridges, a few kids swimming at the river's edge and seagulls flying close by with hopes of being fed. The front row of parking spots was filled with vehicles. I noticed a fair amount of people nibbling on fries, which were likely bought at the nearby food stand. My friend, Kristyne, later told me, "When I was in college in Sarnia, that was the thing to do - to get fries from Fries Under the Bridge, sit facing the river, and enjoy them (the fries) while watching all the action." Tessi and I took a short stroll, weaving around people, on the walkway bordering the tiered flat stones lining the river's edge. We were unable to relax on any of the benches dotting the walkway as they were also occupied with people. Tessi, in an effort to reach the seagulls, spent most of the walk yanking on her leash. Winter During a winter outing, I found the river trail and parks covered in snow. The trip, however, is still rewarding with the white landscape and icy water. I was still able to walk on the pathway near the bridges, though parts were also snowy. Freight traffic slows for winter; only a few of the lakers make the lonely passage. I've never been lucky enough to catch sight of the Coast Guard's icebreaker, which is sometimes needed when there's excess ice. In winter, the evening sun beautifully reflects off the icy river. Many clear evenings throughout the year boast pretty sunsets. Our drive home that picnic-perfect summer day was rewarded with the evening light as it turned the sky into rich colours and darkened the liquid blue ribbon. For More Info
  • The St. Clair River Trail
  • Bluewater Trails in Sarnia¬†Quote taken from site: "Pets on Trails-Users of City trails and pathways are asked to kindly clean up after their pets and keep them leashed. The fine for not cleaning up after your pet is $200 while the fine for animals not on a leash or running at large is $50."
  • Boatnerd.com ¬†Click on "Welcome to Great Lakes Shipping" to bring up background information about the lakers.

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2010


Living in Wallaceburg for many years I am very familiar with the Ribbon of Blue. My parents would take my sister, Ruth, and I for picnics at the many parks along the St Clair River. Was that way last summer for a drive. That drive still brings back memories Cheryl. Years back I used to see many freighters stuck in the ice only to be saved by the coastguard icebreakers. I'm sure that problem hasn't occurred for lot of years. Thanks Cheryl for a great article I look forward to many more.

-Ric Pridmore


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