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September 25, 2013

Residents along Clinton River give input for water trails

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Members of the paddling community look over maps of the Clinton River and identify preferred access points with green markers, dangerous or challenging points with red markers and preferred routes with blue markers.

UTICA — Officials from the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC) and Land Information Access Association (LIAA) conduced an open house for paddlers on the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair to share ideas about how to make proposed water trails better.

Water trails are defined as designated routes along rivers, lakes, canals or bays specifically designed for people using small boats like kayaks, canoes, single sailboats or rowboats. They are the aquatic equivalent to hiking trails and feature well-developed access points and signage.

On July 1, the CRWC received a grant from the national Coastal Zone Management program and, combined with donations, can use $82,000 toward the new water trails until July 1, 2014.

Several ideas resurfaced at the open house, held at the Utica Public Library Sept. 18.

One of them was a clear, one-stop place to check river levels and conditions, as residents said they get their information mostly from checking the river themselves or referring to a hodgepodge of websites.

“If (the Clinton River) is too high, stay off it; you’ll kill yourself. If it’s too low, you’ll destroy your boat,” said John Sabina, of Washington Township.

Renee Reis, co-owner of Clinton River Canoe & Kayak Rentals in Utica, said she and her husband, Jerry, try to update their website and Facebook page as often as needed, but one aggregated source with links would be helpful in answering questions.

Another concern was increasing public awareness of the difficulty of the Clinton River, with its ample amounts of wooded debris and varying water levels.

“Warning signs should be at the most-used access points — it’s a treacherous river,” said Jim Reed, of Clarkston. “That river by its very nature will never be jam-free. … At least warn the novices and beginners that they don’t belong in the river.”

Jerry Reis congratulated the Shelby Township Police Department on being proactive about installing markers along the river to help identify jams or pinpoint paddlers’ locations if they get stuck.

Anne Vaara, director of the CRWC, said that obtaining grants to clear wooded debris is difficult, especially since some communities see it as a good thing, but it has partnered with other communities to do volunteer cleanups.

“We did get some grant money for chainsaws and winches,” Vaara said. “So if you see some sites that are problematic, we’ll try to get a volunteer group together.”

Education and training also dominated the conversation.

Matt Chornoby, of Utica, suggested quarterly seminars at Stony Creek Metropark to teach beginners the basics, such as what to do if a kayak tips. He also added that a buddy system is important in case of emergencies.

Pete Beichtol, of Rochester Hills, suggested putting standard safety information on plaques at access points and also proposed the old-school technique of driving a pipe into the bank of the river to act as a depth gauge.

Renee said she and her husband often have to go out and rescue beginners.

The second part of the meeting consisted of residents highlighting their preferred routes and areas of interest, as well as hazardous areas and ideal access points on maps. They also explained each entry on flip charts.

To provide additional input, email CRWC planner Nina Ignaczak at nina@crwc.org for forms to fill out about ideal access points, as well as other ideas to help with the water trails master plan.

Ignaczak said she likely would have a draft of a plan for the water trails in the spring and anticipated another public meeting in the spring.

For more information about water trails, visit www.michiganwatertrails.org. For more information about the CRWC, visit www.crwc.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.