This past Sunday I had the pleasure of a guided tour of a portion of the Elkhart River through Goshen. With only a brief portage, it is possible to make a round trip and return to the start without backtracking. Pretty neat!
We put in just below the Goshen dam and canoed through Goshen. We were with two canoeists who knew the water well and told us what to expect. Because they knew the waterway, they could tell us approximately where we were in the city, but to me I saw mostly dense tree growth and wild shores, not downtown Goshen. There were a lot of downed trees, but a pathway had been cut to keep the river open. In places it was deep, in places very shallow. Along the way we saw many Kingfishers, two Great Blue Herons, a Green Heron, some swallows, and several little brown birds hopping around in tree roots on the shore. They didn’t stand still long enough for me to identify them. We also saw lots of turtles, some fish, and a huge bullfrog.
After two hours of very leisurely paddling, stopping often for picture taking and examining clam and mussel shells, cruising under a couple of bridges and through Shanklin Park, we arrived near a take-out point in Rogers Park. But instead of getting out we made a U-turn in the river and paddled up to the old hydro-electric plant, now the site of the Goshen Farmers Market. There we pulled the canoe and kayaks out, hauled them up a grassy bank and across a bike trail, and put them in again in the Mill Race Canal.
The Mill Race was used to supply water to the hydro-electric plant and the remains of an old furniture factory are on the left bank. This area is being renovated and will soon house a brew-pub, artists’ lofts, and hotel. Further down there will be some condominiums and then some co-housing, a new concept designed to be more eco-friendly. Families living in the co-housing units will have a common yard and share some amenities such as laundry facilities.
The right bank closely parallels the Mill Race Bike Path. It is a crushed limestone path and gets a lot of use from what I observed on my one trip up the canal. We saw numerous bikers, walkers, and runners using the path. When you get to Plymouth Avenue (Rte. 119), the path goes through an underpass to keep bikers and pedestrians separated from the heavy traffic on that road. That’s not a problem for water traffic that simply passes under the bridge.
Along the river we saw lots of splashes of crimson on the banks: the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis L.) were in full bloom. The beautiful red spikes brightened up the green understory of the forest. Along the more open canalway we saw a greater variety of flowers. Broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia Willd.) dotted the shores with the arrowhead shaped leaves and delicate white flowers. These plants produce a potato-like tuber that was important in the diet of Native Americans and early explorers Lewis and Clark, who called them “wapatoo” in their journals. The plants are also important for removing pollutants from the water and are an important food source for waterfowl, songbirds, muskrats and beaver, and they provide cover for fish and aquatic insects, also. In some of the more open areas we saw coneflowers (Ratibidia pinnata) on the banks, and a few nightshade (Solanum nigrum L.) at the water’s edge. Fortunately we only saw a few purple loosestrife (Lythrum salacaria). Loosestrife is a very invasive non-native plant that clogs water ways if left unattended. It’s pretty, but not good for the health of the eco-system it invades.
Although on the canal we were paddling upstream, the current was not strong. The hardest part of paddling was getting the paddles caught in the dense vegetation just under the surface and getting under a couple of pedestrians bridges that had very low clearance over the water’s surface, but in short order we were back to the Goshen Dam, our starting point. A most enjoyable excursion!