Around Christmas every year my Canadian buddy Navi always comes back to town, so Chisel and I usually go on some sort of mission with him somewhere. There was not much on the menu in Detroit at the time, so we decided to head out to Port Huron to see about the ruins of a half-built hockey rink, the abandoned Marysville Powerplant, and take a drive around Harsens Island.
Unfortunately we didn't think to bring our ice skates, despite the fact that we were going to drive an hour to go see an abandoned ice rink... The snow currently covered the surface, but underneath it obscured a frozen pond where the rink was to be. This was especially dumb considering that it was us who came up with the idea of an "Urbex Hockey League" back in 2006. This was practically the five-year anniversary in fact, and the frigid temps proved it.
Navi says that Port Huron still uses its antiquated, half-century-old McMorran Arena downtown, which I guess makes it a rarity in this era of tearing down "outdated" arenas and dumping tons of taxpayer money onto private billionaire developers to build a new one every 10 years or so. It's a racket. The owner of the Port Huron Border Cats hockey team, Mr. Mostafa Afr, was the same guy who tried to build this failed project here.
Mr. Afr bought the team and started construction on Kimball Arena in 1999 to replace the old McMorran Arena. McMorran was built in 1960 and was designed by renowned Michigan architect Alden B. Dow, in the heart of downtown Port Huron.
Sure, as Navi pointed out, it probably has poorly distributed heat, hard chairs and a dull Midcentury-era lack of sparkle compared to the glassy new suburban-style megaplexes that every other no-name Midwestern city is building, but god dammit isn't hard chairs and inadequate heating what going to see hockey is all about?
If you wanted all that modern comfort you would just stay at home in front of your TV like a good, docile American, right? The only problem is that even if you are doing your patriotic duty of remaining on your couch and watching commercials, rich developers can't make money off of you, which is another of the basic tenets of 'Murcanism...what a dilemma!
So there has to be a compromise somewhere, meaning that Mr. Afr was going to bring the hockey out of that musty old downtown arena with its minuscule 20-acre parking lot and right into your suburban lap, with its own freeway exit, every intention of paving-over critical wetlands, and $9 Coors Lites. Don't worry, there will still be plenty of advertising for you to look at (and hear).
Maybe in a couple years we will tear it down and build an even newer arena where you can just drive your car right inside to watch the game instead of sitting in seats and having to be close to other humans—peak 'Murcanism! Then we can just fire the whole hockey team and hook you up to a bunch of hoses and wires that will blast junk food into all your orifices and pervade all your senses with hyper-advertising.
But the project fell apart in the summer of 2000—most likely because the taxpayers didn't do their part by heaping enough tribute money before the altar of development. Shame on you, Port Huron, you have angered the gods of Capitalism! Now you must suffer the barbaric penalty—thirteen years of attractive nuisance!
Originally intended to be the centerpiece of a $200 million entertainment complex, according to Navi the Kimball Arena was planned to include five recreational hockey rinks, a golf course, and at least two restaurants, but instead it sat half-built from 2000 to 2014 making it a teenage hangout for bonfires, vandalism, and the reckless use of motorized vehicles, resulting in a litany of police headaches.
But like Navi I agree that every town needs some sort of unregulated place for kids to go buck wild, drink Boone's Farm, burn shit, and spray-paint pot leaves on stuff. How else will your kids grow up to be like me—disenchanted, sarcastic nay-sayers with unhealthy infatuations for abandoned buildings, and terminal asbestosis? Answer me that, Port Huron...answer me that.
Even when you have something simple like a shack in the woods or an old bunker, it will grow in legend and find itself remembered with nostalgia in later years. I find it funny that the next group of Port Huroners will hear stories of the half-completed arena where their older brother/sister, uncle or cousin used to skateboard and party, while in modern day they drive by an inconspicuous marshy field out in Kimball Township, next to some suburban strip mall.Indeed, such is how I ended up here; when I was a kid the suburban screw-off spot was the legendary "Northville Tunnels," an abandoned mental institution that lived large in Metro-Detroit teenage lore for two generations.
In an interview with The Times Herald during demolition of the arena ruins, Kimball Township Supervisor Rob Usakowski even said that people had been coming up to him and asking why he was demolishing "their" place. LOL!
Navi also pointed out that despite the Kimball Arena falling into oblivion, its spirit yet lives on in the form of another hockey rink back in his hometown of Windsor, across the river from Detroit. The WFCU Center was built in 2006 off of the same plans that were intended for the Kimball Arena, and some of the unused construction materials that were supposed to be used to build it were instead used to build the rink in Windsor.
I however suspect international espionage to be the culprit here; clearly we need Trump to build a wall along the Michigan-Canadian border to keep those beady-eyed frostbacks from stealing any more of our arena blueprints! Navi probably aided these terrorists in their plot, which makes me an accessory, so I should probably turn him in to Homeland Security...
Speaking of reckless use of motorized vehicles...
Hey Beavith, you wanna like, uhhh, go to that one plathe with all the dirt and like, drive around in thircles and thniff glue? Yeah yeah, uhuhhhhuhuhh, uhuhuhuhhuh, hhuhhuhuhhhuh...cool.
Navi continued to grouse about the scourge of modern, corporate hockey rinks, opining that not only do they sport the blandest, cheapest construction, but they also contribute to sprawl because the new "city" builds a four-ice-pad cookie-cutter rink design, causing four awesome old rinks situated right in neighbourhoods to become obsolete overnight.
LOL, I never knew Navi was so dark...apparently even the politest of Canadians have a sardonic streak in them. Hockey's serious business over there, eh?
There was a good overview of the arena structure from the second level:
This place was admittedly kind of abstract and cool to wander around in for a bit.
The Stonehenge of Port Huron...
Afterward, we attempted to go take a drive around Harsens Island, since I had heard of an old abandoned Boy Scout camp there. When we attempted to get on the ferryboat however the ticket-taker waved us off, saying that the ice was getting too heavy and that the boat would not be returning to the mainland after this trip.
I did eventually get to explore on Harsens Island...stay tuned for that post sometime in the future.
So then we drove by the "Mighty Marysville" powerplant, one of the oldest operating coal-fired powerplants in the U.S. when it shut down in 2012. Our buddy Sloop had already clapped his hungry eyes on Marysville Power by then, since he's fished these waters for years.
Marysville was absolutely gargantuan, and to think we might have the chance to explore it soon was tantalizing (but for the hour-long drive from Detroit, making recon impractical).
It sort of resembles the Battersea Powerplant that everybody knows from the Pink Floyd album cover. It actually stands on the spot where a sawmill stood back in the year 1690...both the sawmill and this powerplant utilized the Bunce Creek, which empties into the St. Clair River on this spot.
The powerplant was built in 1914 by Detroit Edison and expanded through the 1920s and 1940s. It was decommissioned in 2012, but it wasn't until late 2013 that plans for demolition were announced, making it a race against the clock to get inside this behemoth.
I have been in some gigantic abandoned powerplants, but this one promised to be the biggest. It was on par with the iconic Ford Rouge powerplant back home.
By early 2015, demolition had already begun, but the largest portion was scheduled to be imploded. Fortunately that was delayed, allowing me one last window of opportunity.
Knowing that the St. Clair River is just as big and strong as the Detroit River I was pretty nervous about the idea, since the strong currents rarely allow ice to even form, let alone stay in one place long enough for it to be safe enough to walk on.
Let us suffice it to say that it is never "safe" to walk on, but with all the icebergs from Lake Huron pressed together and solidified like concrete, I figured I had a fair chance of survival despite all the other hazards.
I tried it one zero-degree night in February 2015, waiting until the wee hours to approach, hopping over the railing into the river. I had my snowshoes with me, to traverse the deep snow in several spots along the shore.
It was a lot slower going than I had predicted. Clambering through all this crap left me wondering if I would have enough energy left to explore the powerplant once I got there...
I had stayed near the shore where the heavier ice-pack was, too afraid to go out into the middle of the river where it was probably much, much weaker. I was feeling the same heightened nervous sense, and adrenaline-stomach that I had going during my much more daring Turtle Island mission.
It probably took me three hours to traverse the entire distance from where I parked to where I could finally climb up on land behind the powerplant.
Once I was within striking distance of the plant's perimeter I realized that a surveillance camera was watching this area as well, and I would have to cross right through this broad, well-lit, open ground to enter the structure—leaving deep footprints in the snow the whole way...
This wasn't how I wanted the mission to end, but I knew that chances for avoiding detection were essentially nil, and that I would have little chance of waiting-out the authorities if I made it inside. Part of the reason for the heightened security was due to the fact that certain other local explorers had been careless enough to leave their footprints in the snow here lately, all of which were subsequently found by the security guards. As a result the guards now made more frequent, more vigilant patrols. After I sat here for awhile monitoring the scene, I saw one of their cars moving around behind the plant. Clearly this was a bust, and I had a long trek back to the car—followed by a long drive back to Detroit. "Mighty Marysville" was imploded a few months later, in November of 2015.