LANSING — The Shiawassee River Thursday was among eight Michigan rivers designated Thursday as a water trail by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources — the first waterways in the state to gain the designation.
The eight waterways total 540-plus miles and flow through more than a dozen counties. The DNR and the Office of the Great Lakes partnered on the effort to finalize this first round of designations, which includes:
n Central River Raisin Water Trail, 11 miles in Monroe County.
n Chain of Lakes Water Trail, more than 80 miles in Antrim and Kalkaska counties.
n Huron River Water Trail, 104 miles in Livingston, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties.
n Island Loop Route, 10 miles in St. Clair County.
n Flint River Trail, 72 miles in Genesee and Lapeer counties.
n Middle Grand River Water Trail, 87 miles in Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Ionia counties.
n Shiawassee River Trail, 88 miles in Genesee, Oakland, Saginaw and Shiawassee counties.
n Upper Grand River Water Trail, 91 miles in Eaton, Ingham and Jackson counties.
A water trail, according to the DNR, is a designated route on a navigable waterway such as a lake, river, canal or bay, that is designed and managed to create a positive outdoor recreation experience for the user. Water trails feature well-developed access points, often are near significant historical, environmental or cultural points of interest and often have nearby amenities like restaurants, hotels and campgrounds.
“Water trails naturally are an increasing trend in Michigan and throughout the country, as interest in paddle sports and other water-based recreation continues to grow,” DNR Parks and Recreation Chief Ron Olson said in a press release. “We are pleased to help advance these opportunities by recognizing model public water trails that set the standard for future of Michigan’s water trails program.”
Friends of the Shiawassee River Executive Director Lorraine Austin today said group members are absolutely thrilled by the news.
“This will help market the river to other people in the state and even out of state,” she said. “It emphasizes to our own population that this is a treasure, which we’ve always knowm, but also to those outside the area.”
Austin said many people interested in water activities will build trips and vacations around places that have trail designations.
In addition, she said, the designation will help communities up and down the river compete for grant funding.
Austin noted the river also is contending for a national water trail designation, which could be announced in the near future, and provide the river even greater exposure.
“We hoping this, maybe, pushes the federal government,” she said.
The DNR worked with local water trail organizations with established water trail plans that submitted applications for designation. The process was handled by the Michigan State Parks Advisory Committee, the Michigan State Waterways Commission, the Michigan Trails Advisory Council and the Nonmotorized Advisory Workgroup.
All applications were scored based on criteria that included whether a proposed trail: Provides a quality trail experience; offers clear information for users; enjoys broad community support; and has an appropriate water trail plan in place that addressed components like safety, stewardship, historic and cultural resources, education opportunities, funding, signage, management and development, local land and water use laws, and marketing and promotion.
Paul Yauk, the DNR’s state trails coordinator, said Michigan is in a great position to work with partners to create a statewide water trails program that complements Michigan’s broader trails system.
“Outdoor recreation-based tourism is experiencing major growth right now,” Yauk said. “Designating these rivers as official water trails shines an even brighter light on some incredible natural resources. We fully expect that offering — and expanding — water trail opportunities in Michigan will encourage more outdoor recreation and healthier lifestyles, and also serve as regional destinations that will give a boost to local economies.”
Michigan has more miles of Great Lakes coastline than any other state and thousands of miles of rivers and streams. The use of waterways for transportation in Michigan is not new.
“Today’s announcement celebrates our state’s connections to the Great Lakes coast and Michigan’s inland waters,” Office of the Great Lakes Director Jon Allan said. “We have made significant investments with community partners to build, market and maintain water trails. This program is the culmination of a commitment to public access and opportunities for recreation on Great Lakes waters — especially important as we see paddle sports gain tremendously in popularity.”
Bob Wilson, executive director of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, supported the department’s announcement designating the water corridors as Michigan water trails.
“With Michigan leading the nation in land-based trail mileage and the unmatched water resources we are blessed with, it is another important step we can take to provide our citizens with a world-class trail system,” Wilson said.
Ribbon cuttings will take place during the paddling season. Information will be posted at michigan.gov/dnrtrails.