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EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake Debuts

The championship-level venue is expected to attract events and boost the economy

By Kathy Gibbons

Eastern Michigan University’s rowing team will be able to use the new EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake, which will also host major rowing events. || Courtesy of Eastern Michigan University

The new championship-level Eastern Michigan University (EMU) Rowing Course at Ford Lake in Ypsilanti Township has just been unveiled and key stakeholders are calling it a game-changer.

EMU, Destination Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Sports Commission, Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest, and Ypsilanti Township recently rolled out what they’re calling a major enhancement to local sports facilities that can put the region on the map as a key Midwest rowing venue. The new EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake cost $487,000 to build and install at the bottom of the lake, emerging only during competitions. It was designed by Tim Royalty, known for his work on the 1984 and 1986 Olympic rowing courses. The semi-permanent, buoyed 2,000-meter course features eight competition lanes, floating launch and recovery platforms, and removable aligner platforms and starting docks.

Meaghan Hughes, director of the Ann Arbor Sports Commission, says the course has been in the works for the past nine years. Momentum picked up in the last nine months as founding partners EMU, Marriott at Eagle Crest (on the shores of Ford Lake), Ypsilanti Township, and the sports commission saw how the EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake could generate benefits at the collegiate level while creating an opportunity to attract events that would bring teams and visitors to the Ann Arbor area. It helped that, while many premier rowing courses must invest millions of dollars to create the perfect setting for a course, Ford Lake already provided the “perfect landscape” to build the course without major work on the lake or surrounding land.

A diagram of the EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake || Courtesy of Eastern Michigan University

The EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake will not only serve EMU’s rowing program, but will establish Ypsilanti as a top-tier venue, according to EMU Vice President and Director of Athletics Scott Wetherbee. “We have been working closely with USRowing and are in discussions on events we can bring to Ypsilanti Township,” Hughes says. “Their executive director, Rich Cacioppo, graciously came to our ribbon cutting and spoke about the opportunity this creates for their membership.”

USRowing operates a variety of events and Hughes says the rowing course partners are excited about hosting opportunities going forward. “We have submitted bids to host NCAA Rowing Championships … a dream in the future is to create and own our own regatta that will bring teams in to race on this premier rowing course,” Hughes adds. “There are other regional and national rowing organizations that we hope to work with to bring their events to Washtenaw County.”

The new EMU Rowing Course at Ford Lake also creates possibilities for hosting other events like kayaking and canoeing—all of which mean business for the region’s hospitality industry. “These rowing events can vary in size, with one event we hope to host in the future having 10,000 athletes,” Hughes explains. “The length of the events vary as well, ranging from three to 10 days, with varying economic impact numbers. Talking with the rowing community, once they are off the water, they love to get out and explore the area and get a sense of the place they are in.”