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How I Got to the River

By Steve Johnson

I arrived in Lovells in the spring of 1946 being hauled by my mother, father, grandmother and grandfather on the family’s annual migration to the north. The trip was to open the “Cabin” for the summer, where my grandparents would live and operate the northern extension of our family business, S&B Oil Co., an oil distributorship. Mom and Dad would operate the southern extension from Saginaw and come north on weekends. This had been a regular trip for the family since my great grandfather, William Bill, bought a square mile of property along the banks of the West Branch of Big Creek sometime around 1904.

When I was 4 years old, I would spend the summers living in the woods with my grandparents until they moved back to Saginaw for the late winter. It was during this time that I learned to fly fish from my grandfather, spending time on Big Creek bothering the local brook trout. I also learned bird hunting, deer hunting, trapping and canoeing. My sister, Chris, joined me up north for our summers when she was about 4 years old.

When I was old enough to be let out of the sight of my grandmother, I would walk the 2.5 miles to the North Branch and fish around Dam 4. I remember it was a long hot walk in hip boots and awakened in me a desire to drive a car. I was driving for milk at Caids when I was 10.

When I became old enough to be institutionalized, I would be sent back in the fall to civilization to attend school in Saginaw where I went to Ferbringer elementary, Hemmeter middle and Arthur Hill High school. My Academic career to this point was not spectacular, but adequate, because I spent so much time heading north to go fishing or hunting.

As a boy I developed an interest in placing trout structures in Big Creek, helping my grandfather build log structures. I noticed that many of them would not overwinter well and started to build them in different ways to see which designs would hang around. By high school (early 1960s) I had several designs identified that seemed to survive well. The last one washed away in a spring flood in 2012.

I went away to college in the fall of 1964, going to Michigan Tech to study chemistry. The “Cabin” provided a good rest stop on the way back to Saginaw between semesters.

MTU excused me from the University in 1968 with a degree. About this time the Upper Peninsula chapter of TU was being formed with a couple of my good UP friends being involved. I became the TU representative to Michigan TU for the chapter because I was a LOT closer to the MITU board meetings, working in Ann Arbor.

I stayed involved in the Jackson then the Ann Arbor chapters of TU until I retired from usefulness in 2011. We moved to the home that my wife and I built (yes, WE built it over 30 years of weekends) in Lovells on the family property and joined the Mason Griffith TU board and Lovells Township Historical Society that year.

I believe it was 2012 when I was invited to join the board of the North Branch Foundation. I have worked on redd surveys, beaver dam removal and river restoration on the North Branch, Main stream and Big Creek since returning to my permanent home.


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