Monroe’s Famous Marshes Despoiled By Poison-Polluted River Raisin
There is no sadder spectacle than Nature beaten down and defiled by man. Such a spectacle is presented today by the Monroe marshes.
Once these marshes were a billowing sea of wild rice, of tall grass and cattails, shot with pools and reticulated with narrow channels of sweet blue water from the River Raisin. Game was plentiful then. Mallards, teal, and pintail arched over the rice beds in un-reckonable numbers, every arm of sedge was clustered with roots and gallinuies. Back in their retreats, the sora and Virginia rails deafened the intrusive boatman with their chatter. Twenty years ago the Monroe marshes were just this sort of paradise and sportsmen throughout the United States sung their praises.
The Marshes Now.
But that was 20 years ago. We are dealing with the present now. Today the marshes are but an ugly specter of their former selves. They are a region of malignant decay, of withered and mere grasses that whisper hollowly in the wind. The pools and pot-holes are no longer blue, but a slatey gray; the channels are choked by an acrid scum, and the River Raisin is a foul and reeking sewer, transformed into such by the paper mills of Monroe.
And the Game:
Most of it has disappeared. The paper mills dump their acids and refuse into a small creek that meanders down to the Raisin. Every day the creek discharges thousands of cubic feet of polluted water into the river, debouching at the head of the marshes. There the river is almost the consistency of glue, is of a chocolate color and churned into an evil smelling froth by the big gas bubbles that arise from the bottom.
Sometimes these gas bubbles spout several feet above the river’s level, looking for all the world like miniature geysers, so powerful is the chemical action of the acids and refuse. Sometimes chunks of mud a yard in diameter are spewed to the surface, and sometimes sticks and logs that have been buried for years. Sometimes, when the discharge from the mills is particularly heavy, the waters sigh and moan as if with torment, and the gaseous base is heavy enough to obscure the shore. Then the river appears to be boiling—boiling as a witch’s cauldron.
The “Old River.”
The Raisin divides a short distance below the mouth of the creek. One branch, a dredged canal, flows out to Lake Erie, while the other, the “old river,” crawls like a great, loathsome worm into the marshes, consuming or befouling everything it touches. The “old river” is the sportsman’s chief concern. It is bordered by rice, by patches of wapato and high ridges of cane, but there is no stir of any live anywhere in its domain. It is a river of silences, unearthly, unreal, a sort of styx surrounded by a dead world of its own making. A grim and repulsive world of sickly and rotting vegetation, whose missma smarts the eyes and tears at the lungs.
“I remember this spot particularly well,” said Lawrence Duvall, Monroe Conservation Officer, pointing to a place where the Raisin widened into a tiny bay. “Twenty years ago you could
catch a dozen bass there in a few minutes of trolling. You could hide beyond the bend and kill a limit of ducks in half an hour. But the fish are dead. The rails and coots come no more, because the acid eats through their feathers and forms cankerous sores. The ducks refuse to alight in this water. Nothing lives here now, Nothing can.”
The Monroe marshes are about 5,000 acres in area. About 3,500 acres are polluted by the Raisin. In the southern end of the marshes the waters of Lake Erie palliate the evil and here reside about 8,000 ducks and a few coots and gallinuies. In the main, however, the marshes are but a memory. They exist in an outward form, but their pulse of life has departed. They can never be resurrected so long as the creek pours its scorching acids into the river. And no relief is in sight say the mill owners.
“It’s too bad, but nothing can be done about it,” they say.