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Wayne State University Press

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Up the Rouge!

Paddling Detroit's Hidden River

Joel Thurtellphotographs by Patricia Beck

Award Winner

Detroit, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Photography

Published: April 2009
ISBN: 9780814334256
Pages: 152 Size: 10 x 8.5

A gritty, unflinchingly truthful tale of a quest to paddle one of the Great Lakes' most abused tributaries.

— Dave Dempsey

There is no river quite like Detroit’s Rouge River. Named by French explorers, the Rouge’s moniker was borrowed by Henry Ford for his huge automobile factory near the river’s mouth. The river is also home to two steel mills; cement, gypsum, and salt operations; and the largest single-unit wastewater treatment plant in the country. Although the Rouge is too polluted for public recreation and, in places, too log-jammed for a motorboat, Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell and photographer Patricia Beck decided to travel up the Rouge by canoe to explore not only the river’s industrial side but also its beautiful and hidden urban wilderness. Up the Rouge! is the surprising and educational account of their journey, narrated by Thurtell and heavily illustrated with Beck’s evocative and eclectic photographs.

Thurtell and Beck logged more than sixty hours during the first week of June 2005 as they paddled their canoe up more than 27 miles of the Rouge from Zug Island at the Detroit River to Nine Mile and Beech roads in Southfield. Though the Rouge is heavily polluted by sewage, and large sections of the 127-mile-long river have been purposely made inaccessible to the public, government agencies have spent $1.6 billion dollars trying to clean it up. Thurtell and Beck show that despite its environmental contamination, the Rouge is home to wildlife and that its very seclusion makes it a sanctuary. During their trek, the authors saw animals such as green and blue herons, snapping turtles, musk turtles, mallards, feral dogs, and the first adult female common mergansers ever recorded in summertime in Wayne County. Maps are included to help readers track their journey.

Up the Rouge! is a story about discovery, a tale of adventure, and an informative study of the environment. The series of articles in the Detroit Free Press on which this volume is based won the Water Environment Federation’s 2006 Harry E. Schlenz Medal for Public Education. Anyone interested in environmental issues or conservation of Michigan’s waterways will appreciate this unique and attractive volume.

Joel Thurtell was a news reporter for thirty years, retiring in 2007 from the Detroit Free Press. Among his awards is the Michigan Education Association’s School Bell Award for his exposé of corrupt financing schemes for Michigan schools.Patricia Beck has been a Detroit Free Press staff photographer since 1977. She has been honored with numerous awards, including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged.

What at first appears to be a stunt quickly develops into an investigation of how the river's environmental quality is ignored. The resulting story is unusual, insightful and surprisingly engaging."

– MetroTimes

If you want a sugar-coated, pretty picture book, Up the Rouge! might not be for you. But if you want to know the truth about a natural resource close to home, then this is a story not to be missed. This book should be read as a challenge for the people of southeast Michigan, to finish the cleanup and realize the promise of a great urban river."

– Lana Pollack, president of the Michigan Environmental Council

Up the Rouge! is a gritty, unflinchingly truthful tale of a quest to paddle one of the Great Lakes' most abused tributaries. It's a story that says a lot about our neglect of precious urban water resources, but it also holds out realistic hope of a better future."

– Dave Dempsey, former policy advisor to Michigan governor James Blanchard and award-winning author of On the Brink: The Great Lakes in the 21st Century

Are you an environmentalist? An adventurer? A labor advocate? Do you appreciate good journalism? If the answer is yes to any of those questions is yes, than Up the Rouge! Paddling Detroit's Hidden River is for you. Up the Rouge! provides a story line that concerns citizens and government officials should take note of in their pursuit of a better environment. It is a story that Guild members can proudly say was produced by two of their own."

– Newspaper Guild

Up the Rouge! Is an unflinchingly honest look at what the proximity of a city does to a river, as well as an eye-opening journey. Told in brief passages dated by day and hours, Up the Rouge!: Paddling Detroit's Hidden River in truly an up-close and personal picture of what it's like to paddle up the Rouge."

– Midwest Book Review

  • 2010 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: 1 of 20 selected annually