Dead, Michigan, US
McClure Dam to Forestville Rd. (6.9 miles)
||IV-V+ (for normal flows)
DEAD RIVER AT MARQUETTE, MI
6.40 - 10.00 ft
Almost certainly too low. (Barely baseline flows.) Gauge (new Dec.2016: drains 163 sq.mi.) not yet calibrated for cfs. Flows in upper section are dam controlled, so gauge is merely to hint of excess water.)
What's in a name? Though the current reality came about after this stream's naming, the name is
regrettably apt. About 70% of this river's 35 mile total length consists of a series of
reservoirs and dewatered reaches due to extensive utilization for hydropower. The Dead arises at
over 1800' of elevation (from it's headwaters in the McCormick Wilderness) and drops 1200' in 27
linear miles to the waters of Lake Superior (if unfettered, an overall average of nearly 45 feet
per mile). Much of this drop comes in the final 10 miles of river. Before being dammed, there
were great falls and cascades (at least one near 100' in height) along the course of this river's
In the longest normally dewatered reach, described here, there are two sections of elevated
gradient, roughly a mile each in length, separated by about four and one half miles of flatwater.
The drops contained in these sections of gradient are not the biggest around, but a combination
of the factors of bedrock type and configuration, in conjunction with their not inconsiderable
size, may make this potentially some of the most challenging whitewater in the UP (Upper
Peninsula, of Michigan).
The greatest challenge though, is actually finding a runnable flow in this reach. The storage
capacities of the reservoirs are great, especially considering the relatively small size of the
river. Flow in this dewatered reach requires sufficient water to exceed the penstock (pipe that
feeds the hydroplant) capacity, fill the reservoirs, and top the dams. The UPPCO hydro project
here came up for FERC relicensing several years back. The Michigan DNR stated at the time that
they were adamantly opposed to any recreational boating flow studies. That, in combination with
the fact that at the time there were perhaps no more than twenty or thirty paddlers in the upper
Midwest that likely had the skills and desires to tackle a reach such as this, caused us to
advise the persons directly involved with the relicensing process to concentrate on opportunities
that would greater potentially serve a larger portion of the paddling community.
I have yet to see the first section of gradient (immediately below the McClure Dam) with a
runnable flow. On site indicators suggest that this does occur, but is highly rare. Steep bedrock
below the dam leads into a 6-8' vertical drop in a very narrow channel. Downstream lies a large,
three step cascade and another cascading drop between rock walls below the LS&I railway
trestle. These are only the three largest drops of the first mile of gradient -- less significant
drops exist between and below these.
The second section of gradient (after the 4.5 miles of flatwater) is likely to be of more
interest, as the potential for finding runnable flows here is greater (though still infrequent at
best). Seepage from around McClure Dam, penstock leakage, and the additional watershed of this
reach lead to a greater quantity of water in the natural streambed than will occur in the earlier
part of the reach. This has been run once that I am aware of, as we came to the river one April
afternoon and found a low but runnable flow. Unfortunately, the river was dropping as we set up
and carried a mile to the head of this section of gradient. We ran some of the lesser drops, but
the larger ones were looking too much like high-speed-impact injuries in the making so we opted
out on those.
This second section of gradient begins at the point where a high tension power-line crosses the
river, about a mile west of Forestville Rd. Just upstream of the power-lines lies a narrowed
channel between rock banks. A sequence of low ledges and boulder bed "warm-up" leads
into a brief, abrupt canyon with a tight "S" manuever followed by a steep, irregular
drop of perhaps 12-15' between vertical walls. The outflow from this runs into a pond which
appears to have been created by an old earthen dam. The river exits ninety degrees to the
The next drop, "Dead Bang", will be a portage by most, river left.
Though conceivably runnable, a mistake here would likely maim or worse. The river starts dropping
far left, moving hard to the right, and straightens out to drop over a 15' vertical falls that
lands on an upthrust spline of rock. The narrow slot between this rock and the face of the drop
(not more than 4 or 5' wide and parallel to the face) is closed out completely on the right with
the only outflow being tight back to the left. Sound complicated? It is. (There is a high water
channel to the right which bypasses this but the chance of being able to use it is slightly less
than that of hitting the lottery and being struck by lightning, in the same day.)
Next encountered is a shelf drop (with the ledge near parallel to the current) and a fast run
out. A brief stretch of low ledges and boulder-bed lead into
"Cleavage", towards the right. The approach consists of several low,
sloping ledges creating a flume that leads into a vertical falls of 13-14'. Several feet below
the lip, and not visible from the approach, the water crashes onto a pair of rock buttresses that
flank a narrow slot in the center where much of the water falls. The small pool beneath here has
decent depth near the face of the drop.
Below this point, the river turns to the right and encounters a pair of steep boulder-bed/bedrock
drops. The second of these opens with a horseshoe ledge of about 4', with "interesting"
hydraulic, and then drops swiftly to finish by slamming into a wall and turning hard to the left.
A brief pause is followed by a slot drop of perhaps 5' to the left of a large boulder. Right slot
here is a nasty sieve. From here to the confluence with the powerplant outflow there are some
low, straightforward ledges and light boulder-bed. A short flat-water paddle brings you to the
take-out at the Forestville Road bridge.
Since the odds of finding this running are so low, it is probably best to plan on running the
Dog, a highly recommended run, and swinging by here on the way to or from that river. Who
knows? You might get lucky.
To McClure Dam, from Hwy 41/28 between Marquette and Negaunee, turn north at either
intersection of Cty 502 and proceed to Cty 510. Turn north onto Cty 510, cross the bridge over
the Dead, and turn right (east) on the first road, NeeJee Rd. Drive east on NeeJee to McClure Dam
Rd and turn right (south). Look for an UPPCO sign on the left which marks the road which leads to
the dam. From the parking area here, there is an obvious trail which leads down to the river.
To Forestville Rd take-out and powerplant, from Hwy 41/28 just west of Marquette, turn
north on Cty 492. Proceed north for about a mile until Forestville Rd branches off to the left.
Take Forestville Rd to the bridge over the Dead. Proceeding past this point and taking the first
left will bring you to the powerplant. The natural channel here is off to your left (facing the
plant). To hike up and see the drops above, follow the trail along the penstock above the plant
and veer off to the left on one of the lesser trails until you come to the river.
To carry in for lower section only, head south from the Forestville Rd bridge over the
Dead to a wide, open high tension powerline frontage on the top of a rise. Carry west for about a
mile and follow the powerlines down to the river.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2009-11-23 09:54:09