If you traveled this summer, you might have noticed more and more cars with canoes or kayaks on top. Recreation associations say paddle sports are growing in popularity. And so are efforts to give paddlers places to go. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports some of these places benefit more than just the person in the boat:
If you traveled this summer, you might have noticed more and more cars with canoes or kayaks on top. Recreation associations say paddle sports are growing in popularity and so are efforts to give paddlers places to go. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports, some of these places benefit more than just the person in the boat:
It just stopped raining, which has made the air even more thick and humid than it was before. But there’s a slight breeze coming off the water.
(Sound of splashing, scraping, and paddling)
Dave Lemberg from Western Michigan University slides his yellow kayak into the St. Joseph River in Southwest Michigan.
“There’s a heron off to the right.”
We’re at the beginning of a water trail he’s helped to create. It is one of two pilot trails for The Michigan Heritage Water Trail Program.
His idea is that mapped-out water trails will lead you to places where you can put in and take out your boat, places to stop and stretch your legs for a moment, and places where you might want to stop and check out a historical bridge or museum you pass by. Lemberg wants to see these kinds of
water trails created all across the state.
“We are looking at this as a type of heritage tourism. Every river, every piece of coastline in the Great Lakes has a story to tell.”
As we paddle down the river, signs guide us from point to point. Along the way the signs tell about the history of the area, and refer to a trail guide that contains even more information.
“The country was settled on water trails; we just didn’t call them that.”
Water trails are popping up all over the country. Paul Sanford is with the American Canoe Association. Last month, the organization launched an on-line database of trails. There are more than four hundred of them. He says people new to the sport like them because they tell you where to go. And he says these days you don’t just find water trails in beautiful areas.
SANFORD: “You see more and more trails being developed in urban areas as a way to change public attitudes about a waterway that might have historically been pretty industrialized, pretty uninviting to local citizens as a recreational resource that folks are saying, ‘Hey wait a minute, we can have fun on this river.'”
LEMBERG: “Let’s see, let’s back up and go over there this channel seems to have disappeared.”
On the St. Joseph River, the water trail passes ruins of bridges, old mills, and other remnants of early settlements dating back to the 1800’s. There used to be bustling communities along rivers like this, but many riverside towns were left behind when the interstates took a different route. Dave Lemberg thinks water trails can be a way to revitalize some of these bypassed communities.
“So the vision is people paddling from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast, eating in local restaurants, browsing in local stores. There’s where well be eating, on the deck up there, overlooking the river.”
After a morning on the river, we arrive eight miles downstream from where we started. One of the signs directs us up a creek to the Mendon Country Inn.
(Sound of door)
Gerard Clark is the chef and owner of this historic inn. He says the water trail has been good for business.
“Since the inauguration which was in August last year, we’ve a seen a three-fold increase in our canoe business which has impacted on lodging and as well as our dining facilities. We have a lot of city folk who come in who are so stressed out you can’t believe it, after a couple days on river and good food they unwind.”
Clark says the trail is drawing people from all over the region, and the hope is, paddle trails like this one will become a tourist draw in other places as well.
For the GLRC, I’m Tamar Charney.