An ambitious effort to create a water trail that runs from northern Antrim County to the Old Mission Peninsula – as well as one that lines the local Lake Michigan coastline – is ready to launch.
What is a water trail? An aquatic equivalent of a hiking trail – a designated route along a body of water designed for non-motorized boats such as kayaks, canoes, small sailboats and rowboats.
This project is effectively “doubling” the recreational opportunities for some already protected parks and natural areas, according to Jennifer Jay of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC), the organization leading the proposed Chain of Lakes and East Bay Water Trail.
Those areas include the state’s Skegemog Wildlife Area, Acme’s Deepwater Point Natural Area and Sayler Park, Grand Traverse County’s Maple Bay Natural Area, Antrim County’s Grass River Natural Area and Antrim Creek Natural Area, Richardi Park near Bellaire and GTRLC’s St. Clair Lake/Six Mile Lake Natural Area – all with trails on the land and shoreline frontage.
“But none are currently part of a designated water trail and some are actually best enjoyed from the water,” says Jay.
Designated water trails are also a shot in the economic arm of the communities they travel through – by catching the recreational activity passing through and linking it with the unique communities and business districts.
Hypothetically, Jay says, the Chain of Lakes water trail system could emanate from Ellsworth in the northern Chain of Lakes and connect to rural parks and launch sites along the rivers and lakes in the Chain of Lakes watershed as well as locations within Central Lake, Bellaire, and Elk Rapids before hitting the “big water.”
Both the GTRLC and Traverse City’s Land Information Access Association (LIAA) – which is spearheading the local water trail effort along Lake Michigan’s coastline – recently received Coastal Zone Management grants to develop water trail plans.
What they need now, though, are people on the water. Tomorrow evening (Wed., Sept. 25), the GTRLC is hosting a kick-off event from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Clinch Park Pavilion on TC’s waterfront for paddling enthusiasts and others interested in info-gathering along these water trail routes – in particular, volunteers are needed to paddle portions of the proposed routes and record public launch and refuge sites, degree of trail difficulty, average time from one launch site to another, points of interest and needs and gaps in trail amenities.
When it comes to coastal trails, Harry Burkholder of LIAA says the State of Michigan, including this latest grant award of $354,000 (split among nine projects around the state) has made a big push on water trail initiatives in the last two years.
There are already some 1,400 miles of water trails now on the Great Lakes out of 3,200 total miles in Michigan, Burkholder explains, so this latest effort is “filling in those gaps.”
“The vision is for a trail on every mile of coastline on the Great Lakes that touches Michigan,” he adds.
LIAA will take its own data collection – as well as that from the GTRLC – and aggregate it all into a system that will be accessible to the general public and part of a statewide water trail database.
“Participation is huge in this,” says Burkholder, of this week’s and future volunteer events. “There are up to 500 access sites alone along Lake Michigan. This is trail-blazing on the Great Lakes … a very unique opportunity.”