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Covered Bridges of the Flat River may 29 09

I have yet to see a river in Michigan that wasn’t a beauty to behold, at least in its better stretches. But the Flat, unmarred for most of its journey from its headwaters in Six Lakes to its juncture with the Grand in Lowell, is an exceptionally lovely river.

Granted, my opinion may be a bit slanted, as I know the Flat better than any other river except the Thornapple. Years ago, a friend and I canoed from Belding to Lowell, a distance of eleven miles as the crow flies. But a river isn’t a crow, and its ideas of how to get from point A to point B involve many a twist and turn. Going by memory and looking at the map, I’d say that my buddy and I covered roughly twenty miles in what amounted to a full working day of paddling—so precisely an eight-hour shift that we could have punched time cards by it.

Years later, I and my pastor at the church I attended dropped a couple of kayaks into the water up at Greenville and drifted downstream all the way down to Belding. The crow on that day would have had an easy five-mile flight, but the river had its own creative ideas about how to accomplish the trip. Not having looked at a map, neither of us were prepared for all those curves through the state game land, and particularly for the diversion we encountered on what we thought was the last leg of the journey. At a rough guess, I’d say we paddled twelve miles that day.

But time on the Flat River is always time well spent. With high, wooded banks punctuated by marshy shores and open fields, and with broad, lazy backwaters above its dams, the Flat offers an ever-changing feast of scenery for kayakers and canoeists. Among its most distinctive and picturesque views are its two covered bridges.

Five river miles upstream from Fallasburg Park lies Whites Bridge. A historical marker tells its story:

This picturesque covered bridge, one of the last of its kind in Michigan, was built in 1867 by Jared N. Brazee and J. N. Walker, builders of several covered bridges in this area. The name of the bridge derives from the White family, a prominent pioneer family. The crossing of the river here was known as White’s Crossing before the first primitive bridge was built. In 1840, a bridge of log-corduroy construction was erected. It was replaced by this covered bridge, costing $1,700. It is of the through-truss type with a gable roof. The hand-hewed trusses are sheeted over with rough pine boards. Wooden pegs and handcut square iron nails are used to secure the various parts of the bridge. White’s Bridge has been in constant use since 1867, proof that it was well made.

Just upstream lies the Whites Bridge Dam. The stretch of river that begins below the dam and flows below Whites Bridge past Fallasburg Park and on into Lowell is, in my opinion, one of the prettiest pieces for kayaking—or canoing, though when the water is low, parts of it are a bottom-scraper.

Once you reach Fallasburg Park, look for the Flat River’s second, better-known covered bridge. The Fallasburg Bridge lies at a curve of the road on the southeast fringe of the park, right by the historical village of Fallasburg. If you live anywhere in Kent County, and if you enjoy picnicking at parks and outdoors activities, then chances are good you not only know of this beautiful old bridge, but have driven over it at one time or another. It’s a sturdy and serviceable tribute to the craftsmanship of the pioneer era in Michigan. Just be careful not to speed across it. A sign on the bridge advises motorists that there’s a $5.00 fine for proceeding any faster than a walker’s pace!

The covered bridges of the Flat River. Rustic, rugged, and elegant, they’re a part of Michigan history—a reminder of simpler times when beauty, form, and function came together in things that were made to last.




Written by Dave.