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Rouge read

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Published 3/18/2009

Paging through Up The Rouge!, a new book written by former Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell with photographs by the Freep's Patricia Beck, it becomes clear just how versatile the longest river in southeast Michigan is.

What began as a project for the paper in 2005 — when the two journalists spent five days paddling a 15-foot canoe along 27 miles of the Rouge, starting on the Detroit River and ending at Nine Mile Road — is now a glossy paperback (Wayne State University Press, $34.95) filled with illuminating photos and crisp text.

What emerges from this intimate portrait is a river that's part nature preserve, part junkyard and part sewer. In an investigative report for this paper last year ("Measuring the Rouge," Dec. 10, 2008), Thurtell recounted the river expedition as part of a story revealing that, despite government spending $1.6 billion on cleanup, "testing crucial to gauging the river's health and evaluating the effectiveness of massive expenditures of tax dollars has been substantially curtailed or, in some cases, completely eliminated."

Thurtell says he hopes the book will help focus attention on the river's plight, telling News Hits that the frequent logjams he and Beck encountered on their journey took on an added significance as words hit paper.

"To me, those enormous logjams we encountered are a metaphor. They symbolize all the filth and trash and abuse we've given this river," he explains. "Making the river passable would make it knowable."

The key, he says, is finding ways to bring people back to the river instead of "pushing them away. It won't be easy. We're not even measuring pollution as we were a few years ago, so it's getting hard to grasp the extent of the challenge."

To find out about upcoming book signings, visit Thurtell's blog,

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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