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The Eastern Echo Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

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EMU Rowing celebrates installation of new course on Ford Lake

With the new 2,000-meter championship-level rowing course installed on Ford Lake, the Eastern Michigan University Rowing Team scheduled a celebration: a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 4 p.m. on Friday, April 26.

“Now we're going to be able to host high school events, junior events, and bring kids from around the country to see how great the community is," Deputy Athletic Director Andy Rowdon said.

The University's athletics department has been planning this project since 2017. Rowdon said the new course is a great opportunity for the rowing team and the community.

“For our student-athletes to compete at the highest level on their home course … [is] special and unique,” Rowdon said. “It's right in their backyard, and their friends and family can come watch them easily. It just makes it a better experience … Otherwise, they're traveling to New Jersey, Boston, Virginia, kind of all over the East Coast to compete.”

EMU has hosted races on Ford Lake over the past decade, but the University encountered difficulties when trying to host larger races, such as the NCAA Rowing Championship, without a state-of-the-art course facility.

“We've had just single races,” Rowdon said. “We can do that without a course, but it's much easier with a course. You just can't have multiple teams. You can have a dual race, but not anything bigger. So, the course will allow us to expand that to bring more teams in for better racing.”

University officials said the semi-permanent, buoyed 2,000-meter course features eight competition lanes, floating launch and recovery platforms, and removable aligner platforms and starting docks. Located between Big Island Park and the Ford Lake Park Beach Area, the work included an innovative submersible system that allows the course to emerge only during competitions.

EMU rowing

The Eastern Michigan University women's rowing team, practicing on Ford Lake in Ypsilanti Township in this Eastern Echo file photo, is celebrating a new course installed on the lake that will allow Eastern to host multi-team competitions. The celebration includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Ford Lake Park.

Rowdon said the new course will also help the University recruit potential new team members. And, he said, a new program called STEM to Stern can now be started at the University.

“The STEM to Stern program introduces middle school students to STEM courses that can take place on a college campus, but then also gets them in the [water] teaching swimming and rowing as a sport,” Rowdon said. “We can have partnerships and do community-based programming that introduces sport, but also … fundamental academic skills and programming that you're going to need in life.”

EMU partnered with Destination Ann Arbor and Marriott Eagle Crest to fund the project. The project costs for building and installation were $487,000, the University said.

“It started with the relationship with Destination Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Sports Commission,” Rowdon said. “They obviously have a vested interest in bringing events to Ypsilanti, our community, and really all of Washtenaw County.”

Mike Price, chief sales and operations officer of Destination Ann Arbor, said the project adds to the region's destination appeal.

"It's going to elevate Ypsilanti Township and the region as a whole and position us nationwide as a very unique destination for premiere national and international rowing events," Price said. "There's no other facility in our state that has access to the infrastructure that we have here and the location that we have to the amenities around it – quick highway access, close to the airport, plenty to do, lots of lodging options, and restaurants and entertainment venues."

Jennifer Gratz-Pierson, director of sales and marketing at Marriott Eagle Crest in Ypsilanti, said the course provides endless impact for the hotel and surrounding community.

“When they’re not rowing, they can stop by for instructional leadership courses, or just grab food and beverage," Gratz-Pierson said. "It’s great business, as the hotel sits on beautiful Ford Lake."

John Hines, Ypsilanti Township's municipal services director, said the course also offers great benefits for the region.

"As these tournaments come to the site, the community will be able to get more involved in it," Hines said. With "more people in the area, more people aware of the sport, and … maybe learn about potential school funding opportunities as well.”

Rowdon said the course installation had been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it picked up speed over the past year and a half.

“What we didn’t want to do is have to go to the township for funding,” Rowdon said.

The township has “the land that we are using for this and one of the main goals of having this course is to bring impactful events to our community and help better our community and do that through generating a really good economic impact," Rowdon said. "We didn’t want to ask them to be a financial contributor. We wanted them to really be someone that could benefit from this just like our student-athletes will.”

The public is invited to join EMU at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 26, at Ford Lake Park, 9075 S. Huron River Drive.

CORRECTION: This article was edited from its original posting to correct John Hines' title. Hines in the municipal services director for Ypsilanti Township.