Park Advisory Commission: Argo Dam Stays

Final decision rests with Ann Arbor City Council

After hearing residents passionately argue both sides of the issue at its Tuesday meeting, the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission voted 5 to 4 to recommend keeping Argo Dam in place.

The question of whether to remove or repair the dam has been debated for more than three years, with several hearings and public meetings. Now, the issue could be decided within the next month or so. The city’s Environmental Commission is expected to vote on its own recommendation at its May 28 meeting, with Ann Arbor’s city council ultimately deciding the issue, perhaps as early as June.

Most of the 15 people who spoke during PAC’s public comment time on Tuesday were in support of keeping Argo Dam, and some of those supporters – but not all – were part of the city’s rowing community. Many teams use Argo Pond for training, and say it’s by far the best place to practice that sport locally. Because rowers have been vocal advocates for keeping the dam, there was sensitivity on the part of some speakers as well as during deliberations amongst commissioners not to portray the dam as a rowers-vs.-everyone-else issue.

Public Comment: Summary

John Satarino began the public comment portion of the meeting by stating that he assumed the dam would stay, but he wanted PAC to consider the impact that rowers have on the ability of passive users, such as hikers, cyclists and picnickers, to enjoy Argo Pond. The bullhorns used during training and the motors to power the coach’s boats cut down on the enjoyment of non-rowers. The amount of activity on Argo Pond is butting up against nature, he said, and he’s worried about water quality and park quality.

Cedric Richner spoke in support of removing the dam, reiterating many of the points he made in a recent letter to the editor in the Ann Arbor News. Maintenance of the dam is costly, he said, while removing it would bring in more revenues for the city’s canoe livery because it would be more attractive to canoeists and kayakers who would no longer have to portage around the dam. He noted that just down the road, the village of Dexter successfully removed the Mill Pond Dam, following nationwide trends.

Paul Cousins, one of the main advocates behind removing the Mill Pond Dam, is also chair of the Huron River Watershed Council, which has pushed for the Argo Dam removal. Removing the dam in Dexter has been good for the creek, he told PAC. Fish have moved upstream, kayakers are now shooting the rapids that have been formed, and an entire new park system is being created. Cousins urged the commission to “do the right thing” and remove the dam.

Laura Rubin, Huron River Watershed Council’s executive director, said that taking out the dam would significantly improve the river. The dam is failing, she said – a point she made in an op/ed piece published in the Ann Arbor News earlier this month. She said when talking about the dam, you need to include all its parts, and some of those parts – such as the toe drains – are in serious disrepair. The choice is taking out the dam or replacing a huge part of it.

Some people who spoke in support of keeping the dam accused the Huron River Watershed Council of misrepresenting the condition of the dam. Mark Breeding, who described himself as a tree hugger, said the nonprofit’s rhetoric had become hysterical. Michele Macke took issue with the argument that removing the dam would restore the river to its natural state. That’s not possible, she said, since there are dams on either side of that stretch of river – at Barton and Geddes. ”I teach logic in high school. This is not a logical argument.”

Sarah Rampton, who brought to the podium some schematic maps of the dam, said she’d talked to Joe O’Neal, who designed the dam when it was rebuilt in the 1970s. Though the toe drains are failing, she said, there are ways to address that in the short-term that can be done cheaply and quickly. That will buy some time to come up with other alternatives.

Lisa Psarouthakis said that other parks have maintenance like cutting the grass or painting lines on the baseball field. Argo Pond is a rowers’ field, she said. It needs maintenance, just like other fields. The toe drains and embankment need to be fixed, but the city shouldn’t flush a jewel like Argo Pond downstream.

Mike Anthony, an engineer with the University of Michigan and member of the National Electric Code committee, urged PAC to explore the availability of homeland security funds for hydropower, as part of a countywide power security program. He said the issue of emergency regional power security should be part of the discussion about Argo Dam.

Rich Griffith, head coach of the Ann Arbor Pioneer crew team, said he’d already spoken at other meetings about the reasons to keep Argo Dam. Instead, this time he wanted to talk about some of the accomplishments of the rowing teams. Among them, last weekend the women’s varsity eight team and the men’s varsity four team won state championships against 19 other schools. He said the rowers have been quietly making Ann Arbor proud, and are a hidden gem.

Griffith concluded by saying, ”I am on the Argo impoundment nearly every day for half the year. It is my office. It is where I earn my living … I have tremendous respect for it. I know its birds, its fish, its critters. I can tell you where the swans nest, where the herons perch, where the vegetation and stumps lurk, and where the fish like to jump. It is not dying, or in need of rescue. It simply is what it is, a fine and beautiful impoundment, enjoyed and respected by man and nature alike.”

PAC Deliberations

Linda Berauer, PAC’s chair, said this was the single most difficult decision she’s faced on the more than five years that she’s served on the commission. She noted that they’d done a lot of homework on the issue, citing a recent joint public hearing with the city’s Environmental Commission as well as a PAC working session devoted to the topic. [More information about the multi-year process of evaluating Argo, including the final report of the Huron River Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP), is on the city's State of Our Environment website.]

Several commissioners had questions for staff, which were fielded primarily by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator.

Sam Offen followed up on Mike Anthony’s remarks made during the public comment session. Offen wanted Naud to comment on the homeland security issues raised by Anthony, and whether funding would be available to provide hydroelectric power from the dam. Naud said the National Electric Code is being modified to require that municipalities be able to run on backup power for 72 hours. He said Consumers Energy estimated that hydropower from Argo could generate about $100,000 in revenues per year, but at that rate it would take 40 years to recoup the cost of building a power-generator on Argo. Naud said he wouldn’t recommend keeping Argo Dam simply because of hydropower, but that if they voted to keep the dam, they could explore the use of hyrdopower.

Berauer said she was interested in comments by the speaker (Rampton) who suggested they could buy time by making some cheap, quick repairs. That was appealing because it would allow them time to gather more information and data, Berauer said. But was the suggestion of closing the millrace practical, she asked, and what would that do to canoe portage? The short answer: It’s doable, but costly, and would require extending the portage about five times its current length.

Commissioner Gwen Nystuen asked for clarification about what would happen if the toe drains aren’t repaired. Naud said the 60 drains are a way for water to get out of the embankment. When they get clogged, the embankment could get saturated, creating erodible surfaces. It becomes a hazard when that eventually causes the dam to erode, too.

Berauer said she’d received an email from someone claiming that Argo Dam mitigated flooding, and she didn’t believe that was the case. Naud confirmed that it was not – the dams aren’t for flood control.

Commissioner John Lawter asked what would happen to the Argo canoe livery if the dam was removed. Cheryl Saam, supervisor for the liveries, said they’d consider putting a livery just below Barton Dam, and because the river stretch would be longer with some rapids, they’d anticipate an increase in use and revenues.

Following questions for the staff, the commission considered two resolutions:

  1. a resolution put forward by David Barrett and Gwen Nystuen, which resolved to accept the proposals in the Huron River Impoundment Management Plan report and “accept the course of action for Argo dam that retains Argo Dam and Argo Pond with the repair of the toe drains in the embankment below the dam with BMP flow controls, and appropriate design of the water supply to the headrace, and plan to create a water bypass or suitable portage for canoes and kayaks.”
  2. a resolution by Brigit Macomber and Scott Rosencrans, which “concurs with the findings of the HRIMP report in every other respect” but which, noting that the report did not make a specific recommendation regarding the dam, called for its removal.

Barrett said Argo Dam is not failing – the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) wants the city to repair the toe drains. The environmental case for removal of the dam was not commensurate with the cost, he said. And he noted that just because one constituency (the rowing community) had been quite vocal, that doesn’t mean they’re the only group that benefits from Argo Pond. There’s a larger group that supports the current environment of the pond, too, he said.

Nystuen said they keep getting new information and additional questions that need to be answered, including some related to the impact of sedimentation, vegetation and fisheries. Removing the dam would be costly, she added, at a time when the budget is tight.

Lawter said he knows that people complain about the rowers, but he finds that kind of activity on the pond energizing. How many cities can claim to have something like that so close to their downtown?

Commissioner Julie Grand said she struggled with this issue, but ultimately came down on the side of keeping the dam in place.

The resolution drafted by Macomber and Rosencrans stated that removal of the dam would improve the natural habitat and overall ecology of that stretch of Huron River. It also stated that before the dam could be removed, alternatives for the rowing community would need to be found.

Macomber agreed that it was a difficult decision. She said she’s a daily or weekly visitor to Argo, where she walks, bikes and kayaks. It’s a beautiful area, but a natural river would be equally beautiful. Another factor is the issue of creating a safe passage across the railroad tracks at the north end of Bandemer Park. Right now, an option that’s too expensive to pursue is to build an underground passage. But if the dam is removed, the water level would drop so that a boardwalk could be built under the train tressel, similar to one at Barton Dam  – and it would be significantly less expensive to build.

Commissioner Tim Berla began his comments by saying he hoped everyone could remember that they all cared about the Huron River, no matter which side they were on in this debate. The people who want to keep the dam are not anti-environmental, just as the people who want to remove the dam aren’t anti-rowing. Well, he conceded, maybe some of them are – but not all. He said if rowing weren’t involved, it would be an easy decision for him – take the dam out. He cited three issues: recreation, environment and money. For recreation, it was better to leave the dam in because of the rowers. However, it would be better for the environment if the dam were removed. That left the financial issue – and it would be more expensive over the next 20 years to leave the dam in than to remove it now.

Berauer said she was very attached to Argo Pond, and that this had been a difficult decision. After one of the meetings on this issue, she’d driven out to Dexter to see how the area looked after the Mill Pond Dam had been removed. She expected to see “dreadful mudflats,” she said, but the area was beautiful. She said it’s important to recognize that they support the rowing community, but that she’d been convinced there were other options for them. She thought the idea of having whitewater in town was cool, and that they’d heard from staff that canoeing would be enhanced by the dam’s removal. Overall, recreational activities with or without the dam would be roughly equivalent.

Offen said he’d be comfortable with either decision, and that he was disappointed with the HRIMP committee because they didn’t make a recommendation about Argo Dam. He thought that after studying the issue for two years, they should have come to a definite conclusion. He said he wasn’t convinced that taking the dam out would make much of a difference, so he planned to vote for the option that would do the least harm, which meant leaving things as is. Another factor: they were coming at it from the perspective of parks and recreation, which tipped the balance toward keeping the dam.

As commissioners stated their positions, it became clear that the resolution to keep the dam had enough votes to pass. There was some discussion about whether to postpone the vote for two weeks, giving PAC members time to craft a document incorporating elements from both resolutions. They could then vote during the June 2 meeting of PAC’s land acquisition committee, which is a group consisting of all members of the commission. Christopher Taylor, who’s one of city council’s ex-officio representatives to PAC, pointed out that all voting members were at the current meeting, which might not be the case in two weeks and which could therefore affect the outcome of the vote.

As the meeting approached the three-hour mark, Grand – saying that her husband was out of town and she needed to get home to her kids – made a motion to vote on the “dam-in” resolution [.pdf draft resolution adopted by PAC]. Macomber offered an amendment extracted from the dam-out resolution [.pdf draft resolution recommending dam removal]. The amendment, which was unanimously approved, states:

Whereas, Argo Pond is difficult for non-rowers to use when the rowing crews are practicing or racing due to marine right of way rules given the rowers the right of way through the majority of the non weed invested waters on the pond, and

Whereas the rowing clubs have multiple boats that require megaphone use for coaching, the sound of which carries across the Pond and into surrounding neighborhoods, and

Whereas the rowing clubs use gasoline motored launches to coach crew boats which are known to regularly violate the “no wake” impoundment rule,

Resolved that the Park Advisory Commission recommends that as long as there are rowing clubs using impoundments within the city’s purview for their activities that the new River Stewardship Committee, as proposed in the HRIMP recommendations, formulate an appropriate fee structure, shared use plan and schedule, and set a deadline for all megaphone use to be phased out. Such a body should also work to formulate a coaching strategy that will not entail violations of the “no wake” impoundment rule.

The amended resolution was then passed on a 5-4 roll call vote. Voting in favor: Barrett, Grand, Lawter, Offen and Nystuen. Voting against: Berauer, Berla, Macomber and Rosencrans.

Berauer, Macomber and Rosencrans plan to draft a “minority opinion” to submit to council, outlining their rationale for wanting to remove the dam.


  1. By hospadaruk
    May 21, 2009 at 2:02 pm | permalink

    It really is “rowers-vs.-everyone-else issue” isn’t it?

  2. By Russ Miller
    May 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm | permalink

    Thanks to the Chronicle for in depth coverage and the HRIMP committee, Park Advisory Commission and Environmental Commission for making this decision an open process with multiple opportunities for public input.

    Hospadaruk – I don’t think that’s true at all. There are only two vocal parties in the discussion, HRWC and the rowing community. A number of other local residents and park users on both sides of the issue have been present at each meeting. This could just as easily, given a more politically astute rowing community, have been framed as an “HRWC-vs.-everyone-else issue”.

    I was pleased that the idea for an Argo community users forum was included in the HRIMP Committee recommendations. I made this suggestion in a breakout session of the second HRIMP public input meeting because I think that many of the frustrations that are felt by park users (rowers included) could be alleviated by actually meeting, hearing concerns and seeking solutions together. In most cases interactions on the water take place in a matter of seconds and don’t allow for conversation that would allow for gauging intent. Don’t we see the same problem with terse emails, or when skateboarders and pedestrians or cyclists and motorists share resources?

    I suppose it’s not surprising at the end of a long meeting on a contentious issue, but I was disappointed to hear the amendment characterized by the Chair as a “rower behavior” amendment. I do not know about the other teams, but I checked and the Ann Arbor Rowing Club had not received any complaints through the website, email or from livery staff in 2007, 2008 or 2009. There was one yesterday afternoon that mirrors the amendment language, and it was taken seriously – coaches were reminded to use minimum megaphone volume (none before 9am), produce minimum wake and be alert for paddlers. I’m sure there are frustrated paddlers who haven’t written complaints to the teams, just as there are rowers who are frustrated by some paddlers who weave unpredictably.

    A number of the Huron and Pioneer crew team members have invited their City Council members to come and ride along with a coach to observe a practice. As a Huron parent and AARC rower I’ve volunteered to coordinate this and would like to extend the offer to all other Commissioners and anyone else interested. Their season is almost over – they row today, Tuesday and Wednesday next week and then head to St Catharines, Ontario for the Canadian Scholastic Championships which ends the season. It’s a unique opportunity to see the length of Argo Pond, watch first hand the teamwork and dedication of these student athletes, and see how they interact with other Argo users. The teams will be on the water anytime between 4:30 and 7:30. Call me at 734-945-6470 or email if you want to be sure there is a seat in a coaching launch.

  3. By Patricia Lesko
    May 21, 2009 at 4:28 pm | permalink

    We live about 5 minutes from Bandemer and kayak several times a week April-November. On the one hand, I’m glad the recommendation was to keep the dam (though I bet Council will vote to remove it to get to the 25-30 acres of land that will result from the narrowing of the river). On the other hand, I’d be sorry not to see the river further improved by the removal of the Argo Dam.

    As for the “rower behavior” amendment, I’m delighted. The coaches in their motorboats are absolutely obnoxious in ordering others out of the way, speeding up, creating wakes, and rowing their crews 2-3 across at times (leaving no room for anyone else paddling in Argo pond, or around Bandemer, for that matter). I’d actually like to see the “strategy” for the no wake impoundment rule enforced vigorously.

  4. By Lee Green
    May 21, 2009 at 9:43 pm | permalink

    With all due respect to Mr. Miller, I think it really is a rowers vs. (most) everyone else issue. I don’t characterize the somewhat aggressive behavior of the coaches as “obnoxious”, though. Rather, it’s exactly what they need to do to train their crews. They do have to run 2 or 3 abreast to train for racing. They have to shoo others out of the way because a fast-moving racing boat colliding with a canoe (often, let’s face it, piloted by very inexpert paddlers with limited control over their craft) is not good for any involved.

    The key is to recognize that Argo has become essentially the rowing equivalent of a soccer field. It’s no more a natural area than the city’s soccer fields are – nor should it be expected to be. I don’t canoe it when the crews are out, any more than I would try to walk on a soccer field during practice; it’s their time to do their thing. Most other recreational uses, and certainly the environment, would be better served by removing the dam, but then the same could be said of the city’s soccer fields and softball diamonds. Alternatives exist but there’s no win-win. Developing the millrace into a rapid would allow fish passage and whitewater recreation, but it would still leave the water-warming, deoxygenating, environmentally degrading impact of the pond, as well as the dam maintenance costs. Other ponds and lakes are acceptable for rowing but are not as well suited as Argo.

    I think the policy question is whether the city should maintain a rowing practice pond, and if so how the costs should be allocated. Rowing is a popular sport in Ann Arbor, and the city certainly maintains park facilities for other sports. Argo Pond is much more expensive to maintain than a soccer field, and it does cause significantly more impact on the environment. So how much environmental degradation do we trade off for a sports facility, who pays for maintenance, and what rules do we set for sharing with users other than the primary sport?

  5. By Russ Miller
    May 22, 2009 at 9:48 am | permalink

    I appreciate the dialog here.

    Ms Lesko – I understand your complaints and hope they can be improved by action taken as a result of a user forum.

    Mr Green – I met some of your fellow whitewater enthusiasts in the NCRB pool last Fall (Bryan, Boti, Jan) after learning about the kayak club from Jonathan Lutz’ presentation at the PAC meeting. I only came to one pool session so they may not remember me, but they were very welcoming to a complete newbie. My daughter is a junior at Huron HS who started rowing in Spring 2007. I began that summer and now serve on the Ann Arbor Rowing Club board. I’m expressing my own opinions here. My son is a an 8th grader at Clague. We’ve enjoyed Argo since they were 5 and 8. On our fist adventure they wondered as we hiked along the trail below Longshore Drive if we would be able to find our way back home from the “wilderness”.

    I think your statement of the policy question is essentially correct, but I do have comments in a couple of areas.

    First, I think use of the pond by non-rowers is being understated. As you avoid certain times for canoeing there are times, particularly weekends in good weather, when rowing is impractical due to the amount of river traffic. There is a large group of paddlers, both in personal and livery boats, that has not become engaged in this process. We heard several speakers at the public meetings that prefer Argo as it is because of the setting or availability even during periods of low flow when the free-flowing parts of the river are impassable. The implication that these users will be served just as well if the dam is removed has not been justified.

    The shore and boat anglers at Argo have not been engaged. It’s common on weekday afternoons for a dozen people to be fishing at a number of points along the the pond: on or beside the dam, on the docks, under and around the M-14 and other bridges, below Barton Dam, and in a variety of boats. On weekends I see more
    families fishing. We didn’t hear from any of these people at the meetings, but they’re at the Pond every day. Playing fields are used for multiple sports – soccer, field hockey, football, lacrosse – and so is Argo. As cost sharing discussions are approached it’s reasonable to make an effort to identify the entire user community. Since rowing is the largest participation sport at both Pioneer and Huron the schools may have a role too.

    Second, Over the last couple of weeks it has been argued that Argo Pond is the rowing community’s preferred location but that other impoundments in the city are adequate. I appreciate the support that all the PAC Commissioners and Larua Rubin have expressed in helping to find new facilities, but fear that the access issues are insurmountable, and removal of the dam would end rowing in Ann Arbor.

    I think it’s worth reflecting on why rowing is located at Argo now. In 1976 what is now Bandemer Park was dilapidated, junk covered industrial land. It was close to downtown and outdoor storage space could be leased. An attempt to move to Barton Pond failed in 1984, and when the UM Women’s team became a varsity sport in 1996 discussions with the city about moving that team to Gallup were also abandoned. The facilities at Argo are appreciated, spartan, and took decades to develop.

    City park planning has called for a boat launch at Barton Pond for at least 40 years, but on the Huron River Drive side the lack of railroad crossings has prevented any legal access or development. The UM team (both men and women at the time) was granted permission to store boats and access the pond on the Barton Hills private roads by bicycle in 1983 but was not allowed back. In 1984 a planned boathouse was opposed by residents on both sides of the pond. The parcel identified as a potential site now contains the powerhouse, but at 120′ wide seems too narrow to fit 58′ boats and a boathouse, and would place the dock right in front of the turbine intake. It just doesn’t seem safe for our kids, and even if everyone crossed Barton dam from the water pumping station to get there, we have no right to use the Barton Hills roads to bring boats on site.

    The lower portion of Geddes Pond isn’t used much, but I can’t find any city owned parcels at that have not already been developed as park. The area downstream of the island chain where rowers would be placed to avoid conflict with livery boats is bounded by the railroad on the South and private property on the North.

    Superior Pond is completely inaccessible to rowers at this time. The city owns land East of the sewage treatment plant but there is no road access, and the boats would be blocked by the private Starkstrasse bridge. Likewise, the small parcel on the West end of Superior Dam has no road access.

    Rowers dream of a facility with heat and running water, but I think they would be happy enough to have a dirt floored pole barn like the developed with, and leased from the city in 2002. Building that wouldn’t be expensive and volunteer built dock could probably be moved, but doing road or bridge construction, even if access can be arranged, seems economically infeasible.

    Last, environmental benefits of removing Argo Dam have not been established – though the comparison is reasonable there’s no basis at this point for saying that Argo Pond has a greater environmental impact than some number soccer or other facilities that could serve all of the Argo users displaced if the dam is removed. In fact, there’s no basis for saying that Argo Pond warms the water of the Huron or reduces the oxygen content – Neither the HRIMP committee nor HRWC have presented any data gathered at Argo. It’s well established that some dams have large effects on these parameters… and some have none.

    When I look at Dr. John Lehman’s long term work on the Huron I can’t see a marked effect on pH or conductivity on the water above and below Argo. His team was unable to detect statistically significant Nitrogen or Phosphorus storage or export at Barton or Argo. The assumed link between sedimentation and vegetation has not been established, but there was a marked increase in Secchi depth coincident with the zebra mussel invasion which could have contributed to increased growth. Comparison of the 1943 (DNR) and 2002 Barr study bottom contours reveals very little change, and the vegetation location map is similar. I don’t doubt that removing Argo Dam could improve fish habitat in the stretch.

    I support river restoration in general and think the Mill Creek dam removal is a great success story – the dam really was crumbling and supported little community activity. Removing it reconnected the largest creekshed with the longest free-flowing stretch of the Huron. None of these are true of Argo.

    I trust the motives of those who want to remove Argo Dam, but I think the benefits have not been established, and we stand to lose an irreplaceable community resource.

  6. May 22, 2009 at 2:25 pm | permalink

    The HRIMP committee is looking at Argo dam and the other impoundments on the river because of problems with them all. Rowers have have long acknowledged that the pond is filling in with sediment. Rowers have awareness for a few, distinct paths down the pond where it is deep enough to row. Physical removal of aquatic vegetation has been conducted for many years, throughout the summer months. This chore is a must for the pond to be usable for rowing. I am told that the rowing community applied to the MDNR for a pesticide/herbicide permit for Argo pond. Bottom line: rowers understand that there are big problems with the pond and it’s health. Keeping Argo will require even larger costs and efforts to clear the pond of weeds and sediment via harvesting, dredging, and/or herbicide application.

    The biodiversity of the impoundment is poor. The MDNR stopped stocking the pond with fish years ago because the water body was so degraded and there was little interest from anglers. Mussel surveys from the 1930s showed 13 different kinds of species in the pond. When the dam breached in 1973 they restudied the mussel population and found only 2 species hearty enough to live. They don’t even bother to sample anymore. Regarding the recent revision (April 2009) to the state’s list of Threatened and Endangered species, the MDNR notes “Many species added to the list are associated with rivers or river wetlands called floodplains.” Michigan’s rivers and the species they support need help, including the Huron. The swans that are often mentioned as symbols of river health–most often they are invasive Mute Swans.

    There is an effort to paint Argo pond as a beautiful healthy pond, but it is not. Rowers were among the first to point it out, so it seems disingenuous for the rowing community to now talk about the river’s pristine health. As I drive into my former college town, I see a weed-choked pond that is filling in and not very productive. My personal kayaking and fishing activities are mostly upstream.

    I can only see that dam removal will improve the situation with fast flowing, cooler, and more static water that will allow for fish and animal migration and reconnect the river back to a floodplain for greater flood control. Will it be pristine? No. Will it be “natural?” No, but it will be on a path or restoration and improved health.

  7. By D. VanBolt
    May 22, 2009 at 4:01 pm | permalink

    I rowed at Ann Arbor Huron and gained acceptance into a PAC10 school based on the rowing that we did on Argo pond. Portraying the rowing that goes on here as a similar par to the paddle boating or canoeing just isn’t accurate. More than a handful of kids are training year round and for them its not just a fun exercise that one could substitute a spin class for. I can’t tell you exactly how many people have gotten college financial aid as a result of the rowing programs at argo but the fact that major universities basically hand them out to girls (balances football) would seem reason enough for me to keep this opportunity around. In order keep these programs viable for this purpose, suggestions like “no wake” enforcement and a limited time use policy are laughable. Also, the boats are all over 5 figures each so its a pretty big slap in the face to these self funded programs to basically tell them that they have purchased the better part of a million dollars of stuff over the last few years which is now basically useless.

  8. By Tim Humphrey
    May 22, 2009 at 7:34 pm | permalink

    Argo Pond does create a unique opportunity to high school and college students, as well as the general public in Ann Arbor because of rowing. I was a coach for Huron High School’s rowing team about 4 years ago and saw first hand the benefits of Argo in developing the lives of high school students. Even though the decision to destroy or preserve the dam no longer affects me, I feel it would be a great loss to the experiences available to the community. Rowing teaches discipline, respect, the value of staying with something difficult for the results in the end, and teamwork in adolescents while keeping them out of trouble for 2 hours a day in the afternoons. Masters (the rowing term for adults of all ages) rowing provides low impact exercise for all levels and abilities in a setting that fosters camaraderie and meeting new people.

    I have coached and rowed in Long Beach and Newport Beach, California and have had to interact with a far greater variety of boating and activity than found on the Huron River. Everyone on the water is responsible for understanding and practicing the rules of navigating the waterways. I have interacted with countless kayakers and canoeists, some who were aware and competent and others who were far from it. A bicyclist is expected to understand the rules of the road if they wish to use city streets.

    I do recognize that the wake produced by the coaching boats can produce significant wake that can affect other watercraft, none possibly more than rowing shells themselves as their gunwales (sides of the boat) are only 4 to 6 inches above the water line. Various rowing programs around the country employ the use of wakeless launches that cut down significantly on the size of the wake. Unfortunately, the turning radius of these boats would make them useless, if not dangerous, on a body of water as narrow as the upstream end of Argo Pond.

    I remember there being a stretch of river below the Argo Dam and farther up the river that provides kayak/canoe conditions similar to those described by those who want to tear down the dam. I took my senior rowers canoeing along this stretch at the end of the season, starting at Hudson Mills and ending in Ann Arbor.

    As for the noise created by the megaphones, they are needed to communicate with the athletes and coxswains (the person responsible for commanding and steering each rowing shell). I have gone spans of time without using a megaphone and have ended up unable to talk because of having to yell loud enough for athletes in multiple boats to hear me. There is a developing technology that allows coaches to communicate with boats through a walkie talkie system but, as of yet, is unreliable and mostly produces static. The noise produced by the coaches pales in comparison to what is produced at football games (think the Big House) or a band practicing on a field. The difference is that football is mainstream enough that people don’t find fault with it. Many cities around the world consider rowing to bring a certain charm to a city’s setting. With that being said, I feel it is still the responsibility of all involved with rowing on Argo to make sure that the noise they produce is necessary and polite.

    Ann Arbor is starting to make a name for itself in the national spotlight through rowing. Boats training on Argo Pond are showing up at national championships, putting the town on the rowing map. Two boys from Coach Griffith’s team were just invited to go to selection camp to represent the United States at the World Championships. This all coming from a 3000 meter stretch of water that provides shelter from the wind and an appreciation for being surrounded by trees and wildlife. I am just someone who has seen the benefits of rowing and misses the environment of Ann Arbor. I am speaking out for what I believe to be what will benefit a good section of the population, now and in the future. I realize that rowers do not comprise the majority of Ann Arbor’s citizens. What if everyone that didn’t play hockey wanted to get rid of the city’s ice rinks or what if those who didn’t golf wanted to get rid of greens if favor of either reforestation or development? Varied interests make for enriched and healthy communities. Before you decided to tear down the dam, decide if there is a comparable body of water that affords these kids and adults the opportunity to improve their lives and who they are or will become.

  9. By J Noel
    May 23, 2009 at 1:26 am | permalink

    I moved here in ’74 so I’ve never seen the North end of Ann Arbor without the pond. But only when I got my digital cameras did I begin visiting Argo Pond. Now I’m a big fan of the pond and dam.

    Our daughter was featured in the Huron River Watershed Council’s “adopt a creek” program ads back when she was fourteen. Her project had nothing to do with Argo Pond but, back then, the council seemed to be more sensible in its approach to their responsibilities. I guess it could be said I’ve been an environmentalist since age 11, but I don’t think that environmentalists are automatically right about everything – and that includes this issue of the dam and impoundment.

    I notice that the Ann Arbor News ran two “Other Voices” essays: both support keeping the dam and impoundment. There are still signs of dumping on the West bank of the pond. This should be cleaned upon to provide more park-like terrain. I’d say that further development of the rowing and other recreational features on the pond would be fine. Remove the remaining rubble, keep most of the banks in their natural state, let people treat this as a combination wildlife refuge and recreational park as well as continuing support for the rowing teams. There’s already a new disc golf course and small course for stunt cyclists. It’s a challenge,that’s plain, but heck – when did anyone in Ann Arbor ever let that stop them?

    I also think that having Argo Pond visible from N. Main Street is a kind of advertisement for Ann Arbor: the rowers, the cyclists, the fishermen and photographers are all at least briefly visible to visitors arriving downtown from the North. We’re never going to have much of a skyline for our city icon: why not make Argo Pond the icon for Ann Arbor’s love of parks?

    Hmm, that gives me another idea. We’ve also become an early leader in the competition for movie locations – so I’m thinking of a movie script which would center around Argo Pond. (I’m a published author and I’ve already shot of ton of home video on that location – so I’ve got a head start.)

  10. By Steve Bourne
    May 28, 2009 at 11:43 pm | permalink

    I’m writing in regard to the attack on Argo Pond and all those who enjoy the recreation it supports. One measure of a community’s quality of life is the variety of amenities it can offer. Argo Pond offers significant recreational opportunities to City of Ann Arbor residents and students.

    As we all know, nature activists are prone to grand interpretations of facts and reality. The claim that the dam is “collapsing” was made by those unqualified to make such judgments and clearly false. Statements that some “fish habitat” is at stake are equally vague, untrue and ignore other dams up and down the Huron. The claim that removing the dam will somehow be inexpensive or “save money” is erroneous as the Village of Dexter recently experienced when successfully removing a very small dam at significant cost. In fact, there are few verifiable benefits that would result and, in my opinion, they don’t come close to balancing the harm that City Council could inflict on City of Ann Arbor residents.

    Another hallmark of activists seems to be their need to trivialize and belittle the interests of others. In this case those who have made investments and commitments to the pond, such as the “rowing community”. This is the same “community” of active residents and students that help make the City special. Flippant, condescending remarks that this pond is merely a “preference” is an insult to those who understand that these programs are unique and subject to specific criteria. Like golf, rowing can be difficult to learn, which also makes it one of our most challenging sports. Also like golf, it is one of our oldest sports and enjoys a wonderful tradition and history. Rowing has been an Olympic event since 1900, is an extremely good workout and popular in rich and poor nations throughout the world.

    Should this attack on one of Ann Arbor’s most significant recreational amenities be successful, I hope that the cost estimators include the use of City funds to purchase the leases, property and buildings of the rowing clubs as their Ann Arbor programs are terminated in Ann Arbor. Perhaps, as one snide person wrote, the crews could then hang out in a “doggy poop park” instead.

  11. By Rork Kuick
    July 20, 2009 at 12:25 pm | permalink

    The “attack on Argo pond” is just the desire to have some of our river back. The dam is an “attack on the river”. I use many lakes in Wastenaw county – there are hundreds – but the river is the real jewel of our area. I want visitors to Ann Arbor see that we have a beautiful freeflowing river that we take good care of, since we are an ecologically aware community – mostly. By that measure, Argo dam is an abomination, not a poster child. It’s removal at some point seems inevitable, so I would advocate not spending any money on maintaining it, and instead remove it now. Imagine removing Barton and Geddes dams, and improving our stewardship of the tributaries. It could be really good out there compared to what we have now.