The Hugh Heward Challenge is an annual paddling event, reenacting a one-day, fifty-mile sprint down the Grand River by British fur trader Hugh Heward and his French-Canadian crew in two birch-bark canoes on April 24, 1790.
“This is a wonderful event and a great fit for our mission,” said MGROW board president Loretta Crum. “Each year the Hugh Heward Challenge brings attention to the history and beauty of our Middle Grand River – the reasons our organization was formed. We are pleased to be working with all the great Hugh Heward volunteers to take ‘the Hugh’ into the next decade.”
“We know the Hugh Heward Challenge will be in great hands at MGROW,” said VKM board president Mark Przedwojewski. “Many of their members have been involved in the event from the beginning. The VKM is moving on to other challenges, but you can bet we will be there every year for the Hugh!”
Using Heward’s original journals as a resource, Michigan historian and topologist Jim Woodruff learned about Heward’s journey and wrote extensively on the subject. About Heward’s haste that day, Woodruff tells us:
Paddling down the Grand at about Onondaga, Heward and his seven French-Canadian engages came across about a dozen Indians spearing sturgeon – an ‘ill looking band’ his journal says, with more coming through the woods. Concerned, they quickly traded some tobacco for a sturgeon and took off downstream, shooting the rapids at what is now Eaton Rapids and not stopping until dark, probably at today’s Burchfield Park. At dawn the next day – April 24, 1790 – they hurried down the river through what is now Dimondale, Lansing, and Grand Ledge, camping that night on an island in the Portland State Game Area, a distance of 45-50 river miles.
In 2000, in the run-up to Grand River Expedition 2000, Woodruff challenged his friend and canoeing legend Verlen Kruger and the entire mid-Michigan paddling community to match Heward’s 50-mile feat. Kruger accepted the challenge and invited others to join; the Hugh Heward Challenge was born.
Volunteers from the Lansing Oar and Paddle Club (LOAPC) rallied the paddling community to build up the event in the early years. Over the past fifteen years, the Challenge has evolved to include paddlers comfortable with shorter distances, offering a 25 mile “Half Hugh” (Grand Ledge to Portland), and a 13 mile “Quarter Hugh” (Charlotte Highway Bridge to Portland).
The event ends at the Verlen Kruger Memorial at Thompson Field in Portland, where the paddlers can swap stories and enjoy a hearty chili dinner.
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