Each month, City Parks Alliance recognizes a “Frontline Park” to promote and highlight inspiring examples of urban park excellence, innovation, and stewardship across the country. The program also seeks to highlight examples of the challenges facing our cities’ parks as a result of shrinking municipal budgets, land use pressures, and urban neighborhood decay.
Canoeing and kayaking the Huron River has long been a beloved pastime in Ann Arbor, and a canoe livery has been in operation there since the late 1800s. The most popular river trip is a 3.7 mile course that travels through the heart of the city. Prior to 2012, this river trip required boaters to paddle through a quarter-mile stagnant millrace that ended in a concrete barrier and a difficult portage. The portage made the trip difficult and inaccessible to many people.
The project that became the Argo Cascades began as an attempt to address structural deficiencies along the dam embankment and to improve river recreation opportunities. The city pursued two options to mitigate infrastructure deficiencies: soliciting bids to repair the dam’s earthen embankment, and issuing an RFP for an entire embankment reconstruction that would provide boat passage. The Parks Advisory Commission and City Council ultimately approved a recommendation to build a boat bypass. The proposed design removed the millrace and replaced it with a series of drop pools, improved accessibility of the adjacent path, and addressed problems in the embankment that were identified by state officials. The design also preserved Argo Pond and Argo Dam, while greatly improving the river trip experience for canoers and kayakers, and included paving 1,500 feet of the Border-to-Border trail that was previously not ADA accessible.
Not only did the Argo Cascades address a multitude of environmental and recreational issues, it has also had an immediate positive effect on the local economy. The visitor count rose from 36,000 in 2011 to more than 50,000 in 2012, with a corresponding 58 percent increase in revenue. With the portage gone, tubing and rafting have now been added to the list of activities that can be enjoyed on the river, attracting visitors who would rather float than paddle. Tubing rentals alone accounted for $20,000 in new revenue in the first season.
The success of the project has had a ripple effect on other sites along the river. Today the trails, the rock drops and grassy banks are utilized by many to picnic, walk, bicycle, relax, and to listen to the water cascading over the rocks.
For more information on Argo Cascades, please visit: