MITCH BARLOGA: A Great Lakes water trail to be proud of

2013-10-03T00:00:00Z MITCH BARLOGA: A Great Lakes water trail to be proud ofBy Mitch Barloga nwitimes.com
October 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Last year, a couple of young women truly defined the word "intrepid." Best friends Amy Lukas and Mary Catterlin set out on a “dugout,” or handmade canoe from a cottonwood tree, and sailed the perimeter of Lake Michigan. Their entire journey covered 1,200 miles of the 1,638 miles of coastline attributed to the lake.

They began their trip from the beaches of Beverly Shores, and traveled seven to 43 miles a day. It took these hearty explorers 93 days, or three months, to complete their voyage.

As unique of an adventure as these ladies set out on, they are far from alone – nor are they pioneers. As long as humans have been recorded in the Great Lakes region – more than 8,000 years ago – people have paddled Lake Michigan in a variety of watercraft.

Today, the lake serves as both an engine for our economy with robust commercial shipping routes, and a premiere destination for recreation enthusiasts. The lake is particularly friendly to paddlers and non-motorized watercraft. The majority of the shore has some sort of beach available for easy refuge.

Paddlers, planners and access site owners from the four states bordering Lake Michigan are working together to develop what will be the longest, continuous loop, freshwater sea kayaking trail in the world.

The first phase on this goal was accomplished along a 75-mile stretch of shoreline from the north end of Chicago to New Buffalo. This stretch of the Lake Michigan Water Trail was designated a National Recreation Trail in 2011.

Of the four states that border Lake Michigan, Indiana’s shoreline is the only state with a complete designation. This was accomplished in no small feat by the determination of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, or NWIPA. To drum up support for the trail, they hosted the Burnham to Marquette Water Trail Expedition in 2009, a two-day event from downtown Chicago to New Buffalo. This event led to the designation a couple of years later.

Continuing their success. NWIPA is working together with the larger Lake Michigan Water Trail Association which brings together the top trail advocates along the lake in the four bordering states. At this time the 435-mile coastline of Wisconsin is in line for National Trail designation in 2014, with Michigan’s vast shore aiming for inclusion in 2016. A much smaller, but far more complex, piece is the 35-mile stretch of lakefront in Illinois north of Chicago. Progress is also being made with these stakeholders too.

When completed, the Lake Michigan Water Trail will re-create the safe, legal and adequate access enjoyed by the first paddlers, the first Europeans and the first Americans, around the entire lakeshore of America’s greatest lake.

For information on the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association, visit www.lmwt.org. To learn how you too can be involved with this and regional projects, visit www.nwipa.org. For maps of Lake Michigan & Kankakee Water Trails, contact me at mbarloga@nirpc.org or (219) 763-6060.

Mitch Barloga is non-motorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinions are the writer's.

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