The Waterfall Collectors
By Peter Veerhusen
Whether well-known or unknown and remote, every waterfall this Michigan Scouting family visits (and they've been to more than 100) is a unique addition to a most unusual collection.
The Van Arsdale family of the Lake Huron Area Council, Auburn, Mich., collects waterfalls.
Waterfalls? You bet, and so farin 22 yearsthey have hiked to more than 100 falls in the area referred to by locals as the UP (Upper Peninsula).
"We sit down at base camp at night and look over the maps, section by section, for waterfalls," says John Van Arsdale, a seventh-grade science teacher and Scoutmaster of Troop 321, Saginaw, Mich. "The closer the topographical lines, the steeper the hills. What we look for is a place where the lines are close and a stream is running at right angles to the lines. That's where there could be waterfalls.
"At first, we used county maps to find the well-known waterfalls," he adds. "We then proceeded to lesser-known falls, and now we spend our time searching for the unknown ones."
John's wife, Carol, who teaches kids with special needs and serves as committee chairman of Saginaw's Pack 381, says: "Sometimes we see three or four falls in one day, or it can take three or four days to find one. Sometimes they're unmarked with no trails, or the road will have private property signs that you don't want to violate."
Twenty-year-old Chris Van Arsdale, an Eagle Scout, likes to drive the back roads and transport the family on their adventures. Sometimes this includes fording streams in the family's Chevy Suburban.
John remembers the time his family hiked seven miles into the McCormick Wilderness Tract, part of the Ottawa National Forest in Michigan, in search of falls on the Yellow Dog River. They had gone in on foot because no wheeled vehicles were allowed in the area.
"We camped, and the next day we tried to find falls, but couldn't," recalls John. "So the next year we decided to come in from the north."
At this point, son Mark breaks in. He is 17 and a junior assistant Scoutmaster. "That second year, we hiked in and came down this road to where we thought the end of the McCormick Tract was, and then we came to a sign that said it was one-plus miles to the Yellow Dog River. So there had been a trail the whole time. Within half an hour, we found the falls we had missed the year before."
'Van Arsdale Falls'
But why pick waterfalls to collect?
"They're unique," Matt, 13, a second-year Scout, says.
"It's the challenge of finding them," explains John.
Does collecting waterfalls mean keeping a list?
"We try to keep track with many different lists," says Carol, "and we have pictures of almost all of the falls we've seen."
A good area for finding dramatic 30- to 40-foot falls, say the Van Arsdales, is near Lake Superior, in the UP's Huron Mountains, which include Mount Arvon.
At 1,979 feet, Mount Arvon is Michigan's highest point. Mark remembers a family falls-hunting climb on the mountain: "We got near the top and found a birdhouse with messages from climbers like us. One was 'We made it...all five of us,' with a list of names. Another: 'We got stuck on the way up.'" And the Van Arsdales did find a waterfall.
"It was a pretty waterfall," Mark recollects, "with a 15-foot drop. There was a cascade above it."
Unable later to locate the falls on a map or find any written reference to it, "We now call it Van Arsdale Falls," Carol says.
The Van Arsdales' oddest waterfall experience? "Walking into a nest of bees," Mark remembers. "That day we had seen several waterfalls. We got to a falls called Forty Foot Falls. When we walked into the waterfall, we were swarmed by bees." Carol and Matt are allergic to bee stings, so they ran. Mark and his father, although laden with gear, including a camera, jumped into the river to escape.
Winter waterfall watch
Waterfall-collecting is a year-round hobby. Says Matt, "In winter we sometimes use a snowmobile to visit a waterfall we have seen before." John adds, "It looks entirely different in the winter."
The Van Arsdales' best memory: Taking a group of nine Scouts and five adults three summers ago on a high adventure trip through the Porcupine Mountains, at the far west end of the UP. As the trip progressed, the Scouts and adults caught the family's enthusiasm for waterfalls and expanded their agenda to start looking for falls, too. Carol chuckles as she recalls:
"As we saw waterfalls on the 'Porkies,' the hikers got excited about them. So on the way back, we stopped at several falls that were easy to reach. The last one was such that we could go behind the falls, and all of the group went behind with us."
Collecting can be contagious.
Peter Veerhusen, an officer of the Lake Huron Area Council, is a freelance writer who lives in Saginaw, Mich.
October 2000 Table of Contents
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