Michigan Roadside Attractions: Verlen Kruger Statue, Portland

Michigan Roadside Attractions: Verlen Kruger Statue, Portland

Verlen Kruger Statue Plaque Common Mans Hero

Michigan Roadside Attractions on Travel the Mitten highlights our attempts to explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to the unusual.

Portland, the “City of Two Rivers” in Ionia County, is home to several historic bridges and a handful of beautiful parks. It also offers many great opportunities for outdoor recreation. One of its parks is home to a statue honoring canoeing legend Verlen Kruger, who spent many hours paddling the Grand River in the area. If you haven’t heard of Kruger before this, you are not alone. Before learning of this statue, I had never heard of this man but I now know he is the holder of many canoeing records and a hero to many paddlers. This beautiful life-size statue in Thomspon Park on the banks of the Grand River is an excellent tribute to a man who meant so much to those who enjoying spending time on the water.

Verlen Kruger statue Portland Michigan 2024

A plaque by the statue gives us a little more information about the life of the “common man’s hero” and his extraordinary accomplishments: “Verlen Kruger became a renowned adventurer of the twentieth century. First setting foot in a canoe at the age of 41, he paddled more than four times the distance around the Earth, over 100,000 miles. The magnitude of his paddling, often difficult to grasp, took him from the top to the bottom of North and South America, from upper North West Territories to South America’s Cape Horn. Over the years, he paddled most states of the union, the bulk of the U.S. coast’s ocean shorelines, and the interiors of North and South America and Canada as well. Finishing his 28,000 mile Ultimate Canoe Challenge, he stopped at this exact site before paddling on to finish in Lansing in 1983. Paddling records set by Verlen and his partners, involving distance, speed, and degree of difficulty, will likely stand for years to come. This humble, common man’s hero, first a sharecrop farmer, then trained as a tank mechanic and stateside instructor of fighter pilots, master plumber, father of nine, designer and builder of boats, environmentalist and the inspirational adventurer who motivated this memorial, will continue to inspire the world’s paddlers for a long time to come.”

Verlen Kruger Statue Portland 2010

This statue was dedicated in 2010, six years after Kruger’s passing. The Quiet Water Society each year choose a recipient of the Verlen Kruger Award for those who have embodied Kruger’s spirit and helped preserve and protect our precious waterways. Kruger canoes are still prized among paddling enthusiasts for their design and durability. The Hugh Heward Challenge, a paddle from Dimondale to Portland on the Grand River, is held each year to commemorate Kruger’s completion of a challenge to match the one-day journey of a 1790s fur trader.

Verlen Kruger Statue Grand River Portland MI

Verlen Kruger lived an amazing life and this statue is a great tribute in the perfect location. Thompson Field is located off of Canal St., four blocks west of W. Bridge St. (map below)