I Was Only Trying To See The Worst of the Great Lakes – And Nearly Got Lost “Downriver…”

The best thing that ever happened to me while in Michigan’s “Downriver” area was winning $2,500 at a trivia tournament in 2017.

Other than that? I’ve received dress code lectures, nearly gotten lost, nearly destroyed my back in uncomfortable movie seats, got into hot water with my spouse for attending a trivia game that lasted four hours and attended court proceedings. Oh yes – I went to a brewery in Lincoln Park and had a delicious beer that tasted like root beer about 10 years ago or so. I guess that was ALMOST as nice as winning the $2,500 – but not quite.

So what exactly does “Downriver” mean? It’s a term used by Michiganders (slang term for residents of the state of Michigan in the United States, which I am making clear since this blog gets readers from all over the world) to describe a specific region of Southeast Michigan. Wikipedia describes this as “the unofficial name for a collection of 18 cities and townships in Wayne County, MI along the western shore of the Detroit River.”

Specifically, “Downriver” encompasses Allen Park, Brownstown Township, Ecorse, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Grosse Ile Township, Huron Charter Township (Waltz and New Boston), Lincoln Park, Melvindale, River Rouge, River Rouge, Rockwood, Romulus, Southgate, Taylor, Trenton, Woodhaven and Wyandotte.

I remember trying to describe the location of “Downriver” to my husband before.

“You know where Dearborn is? It’s kind of southish from there.” That vague description proved good enough for him to visualize it! For the rest of you, here’s a handy map:

Michigan’s “Downriver” area

I first became familiar with this bizarre “Downriver” term in the mid 1990s, when I was fresh out of college and began working at a small newspaper chain in Wayne, MI. My editor lived in Southgate, and there was another chain of newspapers that focused on news in the “Downriver” area. The chain I worked for had a Romulus edition, which is one of the “Downriver” communities.

The only times I’ve ventured into this area was for the following purposes:

Covering court proceedings for a newspaper article (judge chastised me for wearing jeans when it was casual day at work and I didn’t know going into work that day that I would be going to a courthouse), visiting Fort Street Brewery in Lincoln Park, going to a movie theater to see Black Panther in 2018 (OMG those seats were so uncomfortable), going to a Quiz Bowl style charity trivia game in 2017, and multiple “trivia” related reasons (semifinal game in Romulus and a couple of finals tournaments). I’ve also visited Wyandotte a couple of times, which is actually kind of a pretty little town right on the Detroit River.

My most recent venturing into this area was for the purposes of seeing Lake Erie Metropark in Brownstown Township. It is one of a handful of public parks along Lake Erie, one of the others being Sterling State Park farther south near Monroe. I decided that the Lake Erie Metropark was the better park to visit to see Lake Erie for a couple of reasons – one, you can’t see a nuclear reactor from the park (which you can do if you visit Sterling State Park…very depressing IMHO), and two, I thought it might be less crowded on Labor Day weekend. Crowds were pretty light – other than some large family-style gatherings for picnics (it appeared they were keeping their germs to themselves – we were able to keep a decent distance away, though not enough of a distance to not hear the John Denver song “Country Roads” blaring from someone’s speakers at one of these redneck gatherings).

“Downriver” sounds pretty harmless, huh? Maybe if you grew up there, live there, work there and/or and drive the roads/streets every day it’s pretty harmless! If you do, you will know the difference between Huron River Drive and Huron River Drive, Will Carleton Road and Carleton Rockwood Road and know that Turnpike Road is named “Jefferson Avenue” as it snakes north into Detroit.

If you’re an “outsider” who is just trying to take a gander at Lake Erie to check it off a list of lakes she’s seen during the week of Labor Day? You’re not going to know any of those things! Add to that not having a smart phone with GPS to help with the navigation (just a trusty gazetteer and a pair of reading glasses that only work when you’re reading the map – and not when you’re trying to help your spouse navigate the roads). “Sorry, honey – I’m wearing reading glasses to read the map so I can’t see the road signs.” Oy…

Behold the two Huron River Drives…yup – you guessed it – we picked the wrong one!
And behold the two roads named for Michigan poet Will Carleton – Will Carleton Road – and Carleton Rockwood Road. Very confusing if you’re not familiar with the area.

Long story short? We didn’t get so lost we couldn’t right ourselves easily, but it was…annoying. I guess the only “reward” was seeing one of the lesser loved Great Lakes – which is Lake Erie. Maybe you’re a huge fan of Lake Erie if you’re from Ohio (what other choice do you have), but to me, it’s just kind of…meh. Maybe I’m spoiled since I’ve been able to see lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior so many times in so many different conditions.

I’m not going as far as saying Lake Erie has a charm all of its own – (it really doesn’t). I’m also not going to say it’s underrated (it isn’t – it really does kind of suck compared to the others – yes, even Lake Ontario is probably better even though I only saw that lake once). And didn’t Lake Erie get so polluted at one time it caught on fire – or am I thinking of that river in Cleveland? But (sigh) – since Erie is the only Great Lake I can take my car to see in a time span of less than an hour – I guess it will do! Bonus if you get to see a freighter while you’re there (which we did)!

Freighter! The ultimate prize in the Great Lakes “I Spy” game!
OK, OK, Lake Erie! You get an “E” for “effort!” But you’re still not as lovely as Lake Superior!

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