Thornapple River

Thornapple River

Infobox River
river_name = Thornapple River

caption = USGS Satellite Image
origin = E of Thornapple Lake
mouth = Grand River Ada
basin_countries = United States
length = about 100 mi
mouth_elevation = 617 ft [Elevation of the Grand from [ topological] map on Terraserver]
discharge = 1000-1500 ft³/s at mouthHydrological data from the NOAA [ Caledonia station] indicates flows as low as .800k ft³/s and as high as 1.49k ft³/s]
The Thornapple River is an approximately 100 mile long tributary of Michigan's longest river, the Grand River. The Thornapple is located in western Michigan. It joins the Grand in Ada, Michigan.


The Thornapple, one of the Grand's major tributaries, is about 100 miles (160 km) long. It has headwaters in Eaton County and flows through Barry County before entering the Grand River in Kent County. The Grand flows to Lake Michigan, and the Thornapple watershed/drainage basin is a part of that larger watershed/drainage basin system. The Thornapple is described as "An easygoing stream that meanders through low southwest Michigan woodlands" [from [ page] at (accessed December 19,2006), although several other sites have identical or similar texts] The Thornapple itself has a major tributary in the Coldwater River. [,1607,7-135-3313_3682_3714_31581-104272--,00.html map] of the Coldwater watershed from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality site, accessed December 19th, 2006] The Thornapple is the only major Grand tributary to join the lower Grand from the south. from the [ Grand river] page of the site, accessed December 20, 2006]


The major rivers and drainages of the Grand river drainage basin were formed during the Pleistocene epoch and the subsequent advance/retreat glaciation cycle, terminating about 6-8000 years ago. [From the GVSU ISC site [ natural history] page, accessed December 20, 2006] Prior to European settlement, the Thornapple drainage basin had mixed hardwood/conifer forest and barrens. [From the GVSU ISC site [ presettlement vegetation] page, accessed December 20, 2006] and was home to the Ottawa and Potawatomi Native Americans."A Snug Little Place Memories of Ada Michigan 1821 - 1930", Ada Historical Society/Jane Siegel, 1993, (Siegel 1993) p.17 ] who called it the "Tomba-Signe" (or "river with the forked stream")Siegel 1993 p.21]

During the early settlement of Michigan, Rix Robinson, the first permanent settler of Kent County, established a fur trading post in conjunction with John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, at the mouth of the Thornapple in 1821 to trade with the Potawottomi and conduct other business. By 1837, with the fur trade in decline, Robinson facilitated a treaty between local tribes and the Federal government that opened much of the area, including the Thornapple basin, to white settlement.Siegel 1993 p.22]

As with many rivers in 19th and early 20th century America, the Thornapple had significant logging, milling, and manufacturing activity along it. As an example::"by 1862 Ada had a number of businesses which included: general stores, a flour mill, a saw mill, hotels, a blacksmith, a carriage maker, a boot and shoe store, two churches, a doctor, three Justices of the Peace, and an attorney. Later, a basket factory was built next to the flour and saw mills on the Thornapple River." [Ada Historical Society [ site] ]

The river was subject to periodic flooding. The 1904-1905 flood was "the worst flooding in Ada history"Siegel 1993 p.57] A number of dams were constructed in the early 20th century for flood control and power generation.

In 1957, as part of a M-21 Grand River bridge replacement project, the mouth of the Thornapple and lower channel were relocated about 500 feet upstream on the Grand, and land that had been the site of Robinson's first home in Ada and trading post was innundated.Siegel 1993 p.62]

Modern use

Today the Thornapple is not a navigable waterway, and there is no commercial water transport on it. The major use of the river is recreational. The Thornapple River sees significant use for rafting, kayaking and canoeing on a small but significant portion of its 100 mile extent. The Thornapple supports several canoe livery businesses.A list of liveries serving the Thornapple can be found here: cite web|url=|work=Michigan Paddlesports Directory|title=Thornapple River page|accessmonthday=December 23|accessyear=2006]

From the headwaters in Eaton County to Thornapple Lake, the river is creeklike, with narrow banks and tangled undergrowth restricting easy passage. The lower stretch of the river is a series of dam-created reservoirs that are heavily developed. However from the lake to the first dam impoundment below Irving, is a 14-mile stretch of river that is suitable for family outings and float trips.

The river is also very fishable. A large number of species inhabit the river, among them: sunfishes (largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, rock bass bluegill, crappie, pumpkinseed, and warmouth), bowfin, brown bullhead, minnows (common carp, chub, dace, and shiner), suckers (white sucker and redhorse), perches (yellow perch, walleye, darter), brook stickleback, northern pike, trouts (brown trout, brook trout, and rainbow trout), and lampreys (American brook lamprey and chestnut lamprey).From the Thornapple River Watershed Group "Riverhouse" site, [ fish list] page, referencing a report made by Commonwealth Power Company of species captured in tailrace nets at the LaBarge dam from July, 1993 through March 1994 in Caledonia. (not all species included, the original list has 48 entries)]

The river is claimed to be "nationally known as a fine smallmouth bass stream", and there are typically large numbers of small mouth bass in the free-flowing sections between Nashville and the junction with the Coldwater river. Fishing access is good, as most of the free-flowing Thornapple can be waded or floated during normal summer flows, and many county road crossings afford good access.

In addition to the many fish species that live in the Thornapple, the river is also home to other wildlife including osprey, bald eagles, herons, and various species of ducks, some who winter in Michigan.From the Thornapple River Watershed Group "Riverhouse" site, [ front page] , accessed December 20, 2006] People use the recreational facilities on the river to observe these species for pleasure and knowledge seeking.

On the lower reaches of the river, especially in the several impoundments behind the dams, there is significant recreational watercraft usage, [The Thornapple Association site gives survey data on watercraft ownership [ here] (watercraft section), showing many families on this reach have watercraft] both powered and sail, as well as personal water craft, although no provisions for specific clearances under bridges have been made, and the dams do not have locks, so portaging or trailered transport is required to move craft from one reach to another.

Notable features


The river is crossed by many county and state roads, as well as I-96 and several railway lines. A notable crossing is one of 9 remaining covered bridges in Michigan, the Ada Covered Bridge, which spans the Thornapple in Ada.

No specific clearance provision is required, as the river is not navigable and is broken into sections by the dams and low bridges.


The river has at least 5 dams. [A number of images of some of the dams are available at the Thornapple River Watershed Group Riverhouse site, on [ this] page, accessed December 23, 2006] In stream flow order from headwaters to the mouth, the major dams are:

Ada Dam

The lowermost dam in Ada (known as the Ada Dam) is owned by an association of about 230 homeowners who have property on the river between the Cascade and Ada dams. Formerly a power dam, built in 1926 by the Water Power Company, and, from 1934 on, owned and operated by Consumers Power, it was sold to the Thornapple Association for 1 dollar in 1969 so they would maintain it for flood control after Consumers discontinued electricity generation as uneconomical in 1968. The association operated the dam for flood and water control, funding operations with a special tax levy.

However, in the late 1970s, the association, using a study grant from the United States Department of Energy, did a feasibilty study on re-electrification. In 1983 the power generation capability was restored by STS Hydropower, who operates the dam under long term contract, and the association now generates substantial income from the sale of electricity, with well over 750,000 USD in retained surplus.from the Thornapple Association (owners of the Ada Dam), [ site] ] .


External links

* [ map] of watershed area from TIGER.
* [,1607,7-135-3313_3682_3714_31581-104284--,00.html map] of lower Grand watershed from the Michigan Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. site
* [ Web Site] of Thornapple River Watershed Group
* [ Watershed Viewer] at GVSU Annis Water Resources Institute site
* [,1,1,1,1,1 Hydrologic map] from NOAA site
* [ river info] page from the NOAA site
*Gnis|1614795|page from the USGS GNIS database for the river, giving coordinates and elevations
* [,42.23921,-84.57074,43.23026&CLASSIDSON=40|8|31|30|26|32|33|22|20&LAYERSON=4952|3375|8901|8905|8903|8900|18113&LAYERSOFF=826|9729|3377|3376|15449|4964|9490|10361|10360|832 map] page from theUSGS National Map Viewer site. (with satellite imagery)
* [ Human impacts] in the lower Grand, from the GVSU ISC site
* [ 1837 Editorial] extolling the lower Grand, from the GVSU ISC site
* [ River Association] Cascade Thornapple River Association Site

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