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Making the loop: Canoe, kayak trail receives national recognition

by Candice Miller on December 2, 2013

Nov. 19, 2013

Beth LeBlanc

Times Herald

Peter Deegan makes a habit of paddling the Island Loop water trail each year.


The former St. Clair County circuit judge said “The Loop” provides beauty and variety as it moves paddlers through four bodies of water in a 10-mile stretch.


“That’s one of my favorite trails,” Deegan said.


The Island Loop paddling trail on Monday was designated part of the National Water Trail System.


The Island Loop is the first water trail in Michigan to become part of the National Water Trail System. It was among three trails recognized Monday, increasing the number of National Water Trails to 14.


“The reason I submitted the Island Loop route is because of all these neat features along the route,” said Lori Eschenburg, planner and geographic information systems professional at St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning.


Eschenburg is administrator of the Blueways of St. Clair website that promotes and maps 16 paddling trails in St. Clair County, including the Island Loop.


The 10.2-mile Island Loop is from the Black River to the Black River canal, to Lake Huron, to the St. Clair River and then back into the Black River.


Eschenburg said the trail passes the Fort Gratiot Light Station, Thomas Edison Depot, the Huron Lightship and the Great Lakes Maritime Center, and traverses about 2.5 miles of international waterways.


To meet the criteria for the National Water Trail System, Eschenburg had to prove the trail met best practices in recreation opportunities, education, conservation, community support, public information, trail maintenance and planning.


She said the national recognition should bring more paddlers to the area, and possibly qualify the trails for federal grant funding.


The national recognition, plus ongoing improvements on the Blue Water and Black River walks, show local momentum, Eschenburg said.


“In my opinion, they all show forward movement for the city of Port Huron and St. Clair County,” she said.


Rep. Candice Miller, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Carl Levin congratulated organizers for the achievement.


“The designation of the Island Loop Route as one of the National Water Trail System routes is a wonderful recognition of what is already a beloved water trail in St. Clair County,” said Miller, R-Harrison Township.


St. Clair County Parks and Recreation has been instrumental in installing Americans with Disabilities Act accessible launch locations throughout the county, said Mark Brochu, director for the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation. Two of those are located on the Island Loop trail.


Plans for an additional ADA accessible launch on the Black River in Port Huron could come to fruition this spring, Brochu said.


“Sometimes there’s an image that in order to have a quality paddling experience you have to go up north,” Brochu said.


“Certainly, this lets people know there’s an outstanding opportunity right here in Port Huron along with the other routes in the county.”


Corita Waters, coordinator of the National Water Trail System, said the trail’s ADA accessible ramps made it a good option for the system.


“We want to increase the access to the water for all people,” Waters said. “They really rose to the top because of that piece.”


Waters said the multi-jurisdictional cooperation involved in the trail and information provided by the Blueways website about the trail and surrounding amenities also qualified it for inclusion in the system.


Eschenburg said interest in the St. Clair County waterways has increased in recent years.


“The whole thing has kind of grown beyond what anybody thought,” she said. “It’s good for the whole region.”


The county received the Michigan Coastal Management Grant four years ago to develop the Blueways of St. Clair website.


The site launched two years later, adding maps, features and events each year.


This summer, hundreds of people traveled the Island Loop during the Paddle and Pour and thousands of people got a taste of some of the route during the Float Down.


“It shows how much the community is involved in these bodies of water,” Eschenberg said.

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