We have been an integral to the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon over the decades.
To fans, the dams provide convenient locations along the river to view the action and cheer on the competitors.
To competitors, the dams are destinations to mark progress, stretch their legs and accept much-needed snacks and drinks from friendly volunteers. Racers also recognize each dam has unique characteristics that influence paddling strategies that can make or break finishing times.
With the downhill sprint and splashy launch of their canoes in Grayling during daylight a fading memory that has given way to a cadence of powerful paddle strokes and darkness, canoe marathoners are relieved to reach Mio Dam.
At this first portage, they get the welcomed opportunity to walk, run, stretch and get energized from the roaring greetings from appreciative fans. Mio Dam recreation sites located on both sides of the river immediately downstream of the dam provide spectators multiple locations to view the race.
Mio Dam construction was completed in 1916 and has a 4 megawatt capacity. The plant, recognized as a State Historical Site, was the first dam to utilize a conduit, or under sluice spillway. Race teams begin arriving at the site at approximately 3:15 a.m.
Race teams begin arriving at Alcona Dam, the second portage, about 5:30 a.m. The reservoir behind Alcona Dam is known for its thick fog, and the sun rising about the time the racers reach this destination is a welcome sight, as it begins burning off the fog and signals the end of a long night of paddling.
Alcona Dam construction was completed in 1924 and has an 8 megawatt capacity. The plant was originally named Bamfield Dam after a nearby road.
Loud Dam is the third portage along the Marathon route. Race teams begin arriving at this site about 7:20 a.m. The river hydro plant is named after Ed Loud, a local lumber baron who owned much of the land along the Au Sable River from Grayling to Oscoda. Consumers Energy purchased the property directly from Mr. Loud.
Loud Dam construction was completed in 1913 and has a 4 megawatt capacity.
Not far below Loud Dam is the fourth portage on the Marathon, Five Channels – so named because the Au Sable River contained five distinct channels where the dam was built. Race teams begin arriving at this site about 7:45 a.m. Five Channels is listed on the National Register of Historical Places because the camp used by workers building the facility served as a model for worker camps during construction of the Panama Canal. Five Channels provides significant race viewing opportunities at the canoe portage and the old M-65 bridge. Parking and standing on the new M-65 bridge is not allowed. Parking for spectators is possible on both the south side and north side of the river and a little walking may be required.
Five Channels Dam construction was completed in 1912 and has a 6 megawatt capacity.
Cooke Dam is listed on the National Register of Historical Places for holding the world record at the time for voltage and distance transmission, as it transmitted 140,000 volts for 125 miles to Flint, Mich. Named for the banker who helped finance the project, Andrew Cooke, it is the fifth of six portages along the Marathon route. Race teams begin arriving at this site about 8:45 a.m. Cooke Dam provides ample race viewing opportunities. Cooke Dam construction was completed in 1911 and has a 6 megawatt capacity.
Savvy paddlers aiming for a strong finish at the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon incorporate strategies to deal with stiff winds and waves that are often encountered in the water behind Foote Dam, the sixth and final portage along the route. It is named for William A. Foote, founder of Consumers Energy. Race teams begin arriving at this site about 10 a.m. Foote Dam provides spectators a great opportunity to view the race from the recently renovated Foote Tailwater recreation site.
Construction was completed in 1918 and has a 9 megawatt capacity.