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After several days of rain and anxiously watching the gauges rise, my hopes to paddle the Vermilion were also elevated. As with most rivers in the northern part of Ohio, conditions have to be just right and you have to be ready at a moment’s notice. I had planned to paddle sometime over the weekend and I had my choice of several open or moving water opportunities, when we found that the Vermilion would be flowing, I placed a call to my favorite canoeing couple from Elyria, OH and we charted a beeline for the put-in at Schoepfle Gardens in Birmingham, Ohio. My two canoe-toting companions and I set out to re-create the trip we took during the spring. During the spring the gauge height read about 2.8 ft. On this trip the gauges were reading 3.7 ft. This trip report covers what is considered the middle section of the Vermilion River.
With readings of 3.7 ft, the Vermilion is still very paddlable, but I would have to say many of the river features that I saw in the spring were washed out. We still encountered some ripples and rough water, but none of the fun class I+ rapids the Vermilion is known for. My canoe buddies did mention that this trip wasn’t as technical as it was in the spring.
At the put-in at Schoepfle Gardens in Birmingham, Ohio, our trip started out pretty uneventful and I was disappointed that the first set of rapids that would have normally greeted you around the first bend in the river were washed out. I was looking forward to being re-introduced to the Vermilion by surfing this wave in my kayak! Zipping through the first third of the river provided flashbacks to a couple of months ago when the sheer cliffs and remoteness that the Vermilion displays surprised me. The muted browns and overcast skies from the spring were replaced with lots of green vegetation and blue skies. The wildlife was out in force and we lost track of the number of red-tail hawks, herons, egrets and songbirds. There is also a well-known bald eagle nest near the river and we were thrilled to have spotted its inhabitant several times throughout our trip. Until you see one of these birds up close, you have no idea how large they are. This was a mature bird with its distinct white and brown markings.
The colors of the river gorge also stood out, while everything is muted in the winter and spring, the rich iron-ore colors of the blue-gray shale reflected like steel in the sunlight. I remember seeing snow at the bases of some of these cliffs in the spring; now the snow was replaced with piles of fallen skree and wild flowers trying to poke their way to the surface.
We filled most of the trip zipping around each bend in the river and stopping to stretch our legs on gravel bars along the river. We found great enjoyment in passing our digital camera between boats. I would paddle down below a set of rapids or around a bend and then whistle up to the other boat to come through, snapping photos the whole way like a national geographic photographer. A couple of times I’d get out of my boat and wade to an eddy to catch the other boat coming through the shoot.
While this was a pretty tame trip, I did experience some technical difficulties while passing below a low-lying branch along a bend in the river. A minor paddling miscue put the upswept nose of my boat into the exposed roots of a tree in along the river and like a wrestler putting a head lock on its opponent and twisting them to the mat, I was twisted around and spun upside down into the river. Before I could blink, I was wet and wondering what happened? I popped my skirt and bailed because I couldn’t free the nose of my boat! Standing in chest high water I pulled my boat free and over to a gravel bar where I proceeded to pump out my boat and rearrange my belongings. With my traveling companions waiting patiently, I put my pride and my body back into the boat and we were on our way!
We ended our trip with a fast landing at Rodger Bacon Reserve and in the split of a second we were snapped back to reality. The park is easy to spot when you get to it, but for those not experienced with this section of the river, if you’re not paying attention, it might be easy to zip past it with all the leaves and trees lining the shore. It would be easy to find yourself floating past the bridge that takes Mason Road over the river and connects the two sections of park. Just remember where you parked and you should be fine. When we landed we found that it was a busy day at the park and there were a lot of picnicker’s and visitors, they were pretty surprised to see us in our paddling gear and with boats in tow. Rodger Bacon Reserve is a very pretty park along the river and it makes for an excellent take out location with close parking and water level landings.
While I would sign up for the annual spring river race in an instant, the Vermilion River is fun to paddle at a slower pace and is a must paddle for those looking for a river gorge experience in northern Ohio. Check the gauges; grab your paddle and head to the river.
The easiest way to get to the put-in is from the east or west travel down Route 2. You can go from Toledo to Cleveland Ohio on Rout 2. Go south on Route 60 and then go east on Route 113 (turn left at the wooly bear restaurant). The put-in is about a mile on your right. If you cross the river you've gone too far.
To the take out, retrace you steps, by going west on 113, north on 60, then take a right (east) on Mason Rd. Rodger Bacon Reserve will be on your right several miles down.
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