Huron River Watershed Council hopes 100-mile water trail will boost river tourism
File photo | The Ann Arbor News
The Huron River Watershed Council is in the throes of planning a 100-mile Huron River water trail that would start at Proud Lake in Oakland County and end at the mouth of Lake Erie.
Laura Rubin, director of the council, said the trail could help to create a "river renaissance" to boost economic development and river tourism in southeast Michigan.
Heavy industry in Michigan along rivers like the Huron has faded, clearing the water and opening up opportunities for recreation. But access to the water needs work, Rubin said.
“By improving recreational access to the river, we’re hoping it helps spark businesses or liveries, restaurants along the river, and also increases it as a destination in terms of tourism dollars,” Rubin said.
The trail would help guide paddlers to legal, safe river access. It would include signage to clearly indicate the locations of launches and portages. Parking lots with trash cans near launches would help boost access to recreation on the river. And a booklet indicating the length of various trips down the river and the cultural and historical significance of the Huron would help promote the trail.
While there are lots of opportunities for kayaking and canoeing on the river already, there isn't a central effort to promote a longer trail down the river, the council says.
“We still have logistical gaps,” Rubin said. “A lot of portages are difficult. At a portage in Flat Rock, you have to call a company in advance to unlock the gate,” she said.
At a portage, a person carries a watercraft on land to avoid river obstacles or travel between two bodies of water on land. Portages are a key component for recreation on the Huron, the most heavily dammed river in the state.
The council is an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit that protects the Huron River, as well as wetlands, flood plains and creeks that flow into it, and seeks to improve pollution and economies in cities along the river.
Plans for a water trail started to take shape last year when the HRWC first gauged the interest of Huron River stakeholders at a July 2010 workshop at the Dexter District Library, Rubin said.
The council narrowed its focus to four interested pilot communities to kick off the water trail project: Milford in western Oakland County; Dexter; Flat Rock in Wayne County; and Ann Arbor. The first three have started to work with the council within the last six months, she said.
Rubin said she plans to give Susan Pollay with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority a call this week to talk about the project for the first time.
The hope is that the trail would be maintained by communities or park systems along the river and volunteer support. The group is looking for businesses to sponsor signs. State departments of natural resources have maintained trails in other states.
The council is still working out the funding and maintenance details, Rubin said. HRWC working groups are studying trail infrastructure, pilot communities and the historical and cultural significance of the river. A formal plan expected in the next few months would help move things along.
After initial planning is complete, a three-year plan would lay out funding sources and dictate next steps. In the meantime, the group is making improvements that would help plans for a water trail wherever it can.
In March, council volunteers cleared the brush at Superior portage near St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
River tourism is a concept that’s catching on across the country, Rubin said, citing the 25-mile Milwaukee Urban Water Trail as an example.
That trail is maintained by river advocacy group Milwaukee Riverkeeper, which promotes paddling on the city's three rivers. Paddlers on that urban trail can float among restaurants and breweries, in natural areas or check out old industrial water sites along the river.