Muskegon is a derivation of a Native American word meaning "river with marshes." Jeff Alexander examines the creation, uses of, devastation, and restoration of Michigan's historic and beautiful Muskegon River.
Four of the five Great Lakes touch Michigan's shores; the state's shoreline spans more than 4,500 miles, not to mention more than 11,000 inland lakes and a multitude of rivers. The Muskegon River, the state's second longest river, runs 227 miles and has the most diverse features of any of Michigan’s many rivers. The Muskegon rises from the center of the state, widens, and moves westward, passing through the Pere Marquette and AuSable State Forests. The river ultimately flows toward Lake Michigan, where it opens into Muskegon Lake, a 12 square-mile, broad harbor located between the Muskegon River and Lake Michigan.
Formed several thousand years ago, when the glaciers that created the Great Lakes receded, and later inhabited by Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians, the Muskegon River was used by French fur trappers in the 1600s. Rich in white pine, the area was developed during the turn-of-the-century lumber boom, and at one time Muskegon Lake boasted more than 47 sawmills. The Muskegon was ravaged following settlement by Europeans, when rivers and streams were used to transport logs to the newly developing cities. Dams on rivers and larger streams provided power for sawmills and grain milling, and later provided energy for generating electricity as technology advanced.
There is now an ambitious effort to restore and protect this mighty river's natural features in the face of encroaching urbanization and land development that threatens to turn this majestic waterway into a mirror image of the Grand River, Michigan's longest river and one of its most polluted.