NEW Exhibition: The River That Changed The World
In 1959, sixteen fishermen, united by their love of trout and the Au Sable River, gathered at George Griffith’s cabin east of Grayling. The sportsmen were concerned about the need for long-term conservation of Michigan’s cold-water streams. They were convinced that better and more scientific habitat care would help the state’s trout population thrive, creating not only better fishing, but also a better environment. Nearly 60 years later, Trout Unlimited, the organization founded by the fishermen, has become a national champion of fish habitat conservation.
Trout Unlimited’s founding on the Au Sable is showcased in the Michigan History Museum’s newest exhibition, The River that Changed the World, opening Sept. 30, 2017.
“The Au Sable River has influenced – and continues to influence – people around the world,” stated state archivist and exhibition curator Mark Harvey. “The stories in the exhibition demonstrate the innovative and unprecedented ways private citizens and state government worked together to conserve and protect the river and sustainably manage its fish populations.”
The exhibition features George Griffith’s 24-foot-long Au Sable river boat, surrounded by river scenes. A re-creation of the Wanigas Rod Shop introduces fly fisherman and rod maker Art Neumann, another founding member of Trout Unlimited. Nearby, visitors of all ages can learn how to tie a fly and compare tied flies to real insects under a microscope.
The exhibition also introduces the relationship between the Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe people) and the Au Sable River. It highlights how their use of river changed with the seasons and includes tools and fish bones from an archaeological site on the river.
The early-twentieth-century work of state conservationists and private citizens who tried to save the grayling is represented by a “battery” of glass beakers from the Grayling fish hatchery. Each beaker held thousands of fish eggs.
Original paneling and artifacts from the Wolverine fish car, which carried millions of fish by rail across Michigan, tell the story of subsequent efforts to plant trout in the Au Sable. Former Fisheries Chief Fred Westerman, one of the first employees of the Wolverine, once reported: “Frequently … thirty cans of fish would be dropped off at some spooky junction - like in the jack pine at Au Sable-Oscoda with the cemetery across the tracks and the depot a mile from town - on the night run of the Detroit & Mackinac, to await the morning train going up the river branch.”
The exhibit’s final section presents Grayling as a destination for fishing and tourism since the mid-nineteenth century. It combines competing interests and different perspectives on the future of the Au Sable with an appreciation of the recreational draw of the river. In this section, visitors can sit in a kayak and experience a 360-degree virtual reality paddle down the Au Sable, either by using an Oculus Rift headset or their own smart devices and cardboard viewers. At the end of the exhibition, visitors are invited share their stories about the rivers that they love and how they might work to protect them.