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The Lake Michigan Water Trail

Nothing less than the water trail equivalent of the Appalachian Trail

Many of you have probably been hearing about the Lake Michigan Water Trail National Recreation Trail in the media. Newspapers have done a very good job of covering the story accurately. That being said, we thought that you should know what the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association has been working on for the past couple of years to help create this designation.
On June 2nd, 2011, representatives from the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, as part of the larger Lake Michigan Water Trail Association http://www.lmwt.org/, met in Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan at Northerly Island. There, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes, National Park Service Regional Director Michael Reynolds, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced the 41 newly designated National Recreation Trails for 2011 in anticipation of National Trails Day on July 4th.

The Lake Michigan Water Trail was chosen as the best site to announce all 41 trails because it is a project of national significance. The Lake Michigan Water Trail will not only be the longest continuous- loop water trail in the world, but it fits perfectly with several national initiatives that were created out of the "America's Great Outdoors (AGO)" effort http://americasgreatoutdoors.gov/.
The goal of America's Great Outdoors is to develop a 21st Century conservation and recreation agenda. AGO acknowledges that lasting conservation solutions should rise from the American people, and that the protection of our natural heritage is a non-partisan objective shared by all Americans. AGO recognizes that many of the best ideas come from outside of Washington. Instead of dictating policies, this initiative turns to communities for local, grassroots conservation initiatives. Instead of growing bureaucracy, it calls for reworking inefficient policies and making the Federal Government a better partner with states, tribes, and local communities.

In future editions of this newsletter, we will have more information about AGO's implications for Northwest Indiana. As a teaser, I want to let you know that various federal agencies are looking at the Calumet Region as a pilot project area for rest of the country in terms of water efforts. NWIPA and many partners here are being increasingly recognized for our ability to develop ideas, translate them into plans, and move these plans to on-the-ground implementation. It is known that our innovative partnerships involve diverse groups of stakeholders - this is the foundation of successful collaborative efforts.


What Can You Do as Fellow Paddlers to Support These Efforts? You Are Helping Already!

In celebration of the Lake Michigan Water Trail milestone on June 4th, many NWIPA members participated in one of the most successful events NWIPA has ever organized. In partnership with the National Park Service Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, we followed up on the June 2nd announcement by holding a National Trails Day celebration at the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk to commemorate the designation. Approximately 250 paddlers, bicyclists, and supporters of the trail converged to mark the occasion. At the event, we hosted several speakers, including representatives from Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission, Openlands, the National Park Service, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and
the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association. As part of the celebration, the new "Paddle the Dunes" South Shore Poster was unveiled by the artist herself, Barbara Spies Labus, followed by speakers from the NWI Forum, South Shore Arts, and NIPSCO.

So what does all of this mean? The June 4th designation of the first 75 miles of the Lake Michigan Water Trail means that we helped spearhead an effort whose goal is nothing less than the water trail equivalent of the Appalachian Trail. This is something that will benefit both day paddlers and through paddlers, as well as coastal communities in the four states that surround Lake Michigan. Right now, public meetings are being held in Wisconsin, where more than 450 miles of trail will be designated. The State of Michigan is not far behind. In the next few years, we hope that the entire water trail will be completed. In Northwest Indiana, this effort was born out of planning efforts that have taken place over the past five years through the NWI Greenways and Blueways Plan http://www.greenwaysblueways.com.

Our efforts to designate the LMWT were given a major boost forward when we organized the Burnham to Marquette Water Trail Expedition http://burnhamplan100.lib.uchicago.edu/events/id/684/ in 2009 as part of the Burnham Plan's 100th Anniversary. NWIPA has held Lake Michigan Water Trail events every year since then. In November of 2010, we prepared the application for the National Trail designation and submitted more than 56 letters of support from leadership across three states. This included all of the public access site owners, many local governments, public agencies, industry, six members of the U.S. Congress, and a diverse group of non-profit organizations, urban planners, and tourism agencies.

With all of the momentum created by the designation of the Lake Michigan Water Trail as a National Trail, where do we go from here? Now that the National Trails Day event has passed, we are looking to assist our neighboring states on completing the trail over the next few years. We know that this is no easy task, but we are confident that through the partnerships that have been established, and with new relationships that have developed -- such as with the National Parks Conservation Association -- we will realize our vision of the 1600-mile trail around Lake Michigan. Additionally, the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association is once again looking inward at our own region. NWIPA hopes to harness the enthusiasm that has been generated by the Lake Michigan Water Trail, and move forward with developing water trails on our tributaries, especially Trail Creek and the Little Calumet River. On the East Branch of the Little Calumet in particular, we hope to spearhead an effort to create a coalition of organizations working collaboratively to not only the develop the water trail, but also environmental issues involving the river, including land preservation, watershed management, invasive species, and other pressing issues. The creation of these water trails will benefit a much larger part of the paddling community, including canoeists and recreational kayakers. We hope to one day be celebrating the dedication of other National Trails within Northwest Indiana that will improve the quality of life for people in the region as a whole.

What can you do as fellow paddlers to support these efforts? You are doing it already! Simply getting out on the water and paddling in Northwest Indiana is the best thing you can do. Joining NWIPA at our paddling events and becoming a full paid member is even better. Finally, getting involved on one of our committees, reaching out to your local officials, and speaking out about water trails is absolutely paramount to our success. Without the support of the more than 400 NWIPA members, none of this would have been possible. For that, we thank you very much for helping us make Northwest Indiana a premier destination for paddling. This is only the first step!

I hope to see you out on the Water Trail this summer!

Thanks,
Dan Plath
NWIPA President
dplath@nwipa.org