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Michigan Environment

Paddling Traverse City's tributaries

Linnaea Melcarek

The Boardman River winding its way through Traverse City is one of the city’s defining features. But it’s much easier to overlook the Boardman’s tributary, Kids Creek.

Mitch Treadwell has paddled Kids Creek more than a hundred times in the past year and a half.

He usually does it in ten minutes, down a half mile stretch in downtown Traverse City.


“I can kind of view it as the downhill skiing equivalent of paddling, in that I can just paddle on down, and then get out at the finish and walk back to the start.”


Mitch has done a lot of work clearing the creek of obstacles and trash. 


He even asks property owners for help.


“For some of the footbridges, I had to talk with property owners to see if they could, say, lift up the bridge on cinder blocks just a couple inches to give me extra clearance through it.”


By Mitch’s count, Kids Creek has flooded at least 7 times this year.


That gives him the chance to explore the upper sections. 


At those times, what’s normally an 8 or 10 foot wide creek can be as wide as 200 yards.


“That was a real feeling of exploration, that I was paddling an entirely different landscape than I’m used to. I could hardly tell where the creek channel was, and I could go across areas that are normally dry ground or just marsh.”


In addition to paddling, Mitch has become active advocating for the city’s waterways at board meetings. 


Credit Linneaea Melcarek
Mitch Treadwell at Kid’s Creek in Traverse City.

Mitch says Kids Creek is a unique feature of Traverse City that most people are only vaguely aware of. 

And it’s not well cared for.


Mitch was part of a cleanup this spring that focused on the Grand Traverse Commons.


“We took out 4500 pounds of trash from the Commons, and that was good progress. But there’s definitely a lot of trash that comes into the creek in the last half mile and just ends up flowing into the Boardman River. And if people don’t pick it up there, it’s out to the bay.”


Despite the trash, Kids Creek has become one of Mitch’s favorite paddle trips. That’s partly because it’s conveniently located only a few blocks from his house, and it’s a short, fun trip with a number of rapids.


After hearing more about Kids Creek from Mitch, I was interested in experiencing it for myself. 


Since I’m a pretty strong and experienced paddler too, I figured I was up for the challenge. 



I can now verify that this is a very fun paddle, but also quite technical, with lots of low hanging trees and bridges you have to duck under. There’s even a small waterfall, maybe two feet tall.



 It was the first time Mitch had shared paddling the creek with someone else, but it probably won’t be the last.


“Any day you get out on the water is a good day. And I love spending time enjoying and exploring our local waterways and seeing other people out paddling them too. So I’m definitely looking forward to a lot of good times on the water. Hopefully I’ll keep my boat upright.”


Mitch Treadwell has a number of offbeat paddle trips still in the planning stages. One of them is a circle tour of Betsie River and the Platte River. This involves starting near Interlochen, paddling the entire Betsie to Frankfort. From there, Mitch plans to paddle north on Lake Michigan around Point Betsie to the mouth of the Platte River. Then he would paddle up the entire Platte all the way up to Lake Ann. It’s a journey of over 90 miles in which you end up just a few miles from your starting point. Mitch hopes to tackle this trip and many others in the near future.