The Rapid River is a tributary to the Torch River. The Rapid is 18 miles long and originates about six miles northeast of Kalkaska in a forested area of the Mancelona Plain. For most of its length, it flows through a deep, picturesque valley which was probably carved by a larger glacial meltwater stream. The stream corridor is mostly forested, undeveloped cedar swamp.
The stream system has only five tributaries, which is a low number for a stream of its length. This indicates that tremendous quantities of cold, high-quality ground water discharge directly into the main stream channel. The total length of the five tributaries is about 12 miles, bringing the total channel length for the system to about 30 miles. Only one tributary, the Little Rapid River, is named. The Rapid is a second-order stream.
The stream system is crossed by roads nine times: Priest Rd.(nearest its headwaters), followed by Leetsville Rd., U.S. 131, Wood Rd. (twice), Underhill Rd., Kellogg Rd., Rapid City Rd. (C-597) and Aarwood Rd. (nearest its mouth).
The greatest elevation of the river’s headwaters is 1,083 feet. The river drops almost 500 feet in elevation, for an average stream gradient of about 27 feet per mile. In a nine mile stretch between U.S. 131 and Kellogg Road, the river’s gradient averages 36 feet per mile. As a result of the steep gradient, most parts of the stream have a gravel or rocky bottom. The last three miles have a low gradient with sand and organic sediments on the bottom. The lower 1.25 miles of the Rapid River is slightly impounded by the Elk Rapids Dam.
The Rapid River is located in Clearwater, Rapid River, and Cold Springs Townships in Kalkaska County. There is one dam on the river, creating a 30 acre impoundment called Rugg Pond. In the past this pond has been stocked with brook trout.
There is quite a bit of State land along the upper third of the river (upstream from Woods Road). In 1998, The State acquired a one mile stretch of stream (known as the Seven Bridges Property) with the assistance of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Clearwater Township’s Freedom Park is located on the river just north of Rapid City.
Studies have shown that the Rapid River has high dissolved oxygen levels, due to the low temperature, turbulent flow, and low numbers of aquatic plants (which can reduce oxygen at night through respiration). Phosphorus levels are low, probably because of the forested condition of the watershed, coupled with the fact that ground water recharge rather than surface runoff supplies most of the river’s water. The channel above Rapid City was never cleared for log drives and therefore contains an abundant supply of cover compared to most streams.
Electroshocking surveys by the MDNR have revealed a high population of wild brook trout in the upper reaches, with brook, brown and rainbow trout all being found in the middle and lower reaches. The lower reach also contains white sucker and cheek chub. Anadromous rainbow trout (a.k.a. steelhead) ascend the Rapid from Torch and Elk Lakes in spring to spawn. The Rapid River is designated as a trout stream by the MDNR. It is considered a premier trout stream, although it is not listed as a blue ribbon stream.