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Waterway route would connect paddlers with island treasures

08/16/2015, 12:00am EDT
By BY MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
Waterway would connect paddlers with islands

ISLE SAINT GEORGE, Ohio — The beach along Manila Bay should look particularly inviting to kayakers searching for a place to stop and explore. Close by they will find Fox’s Marsh Wildlife Area, with its natural coastal wetlands producing a cozy environment for fox snakes, water snakes, migratory shorebirds, and songbirds.

On a peninsula along the opposite eastern side of this dolomite atoll better known as North Bass Island sits Honey Point Wildlife Area, with its pocket of wetlands called Smith’s Pond. Paddle enthusiasts could soon be enjoying its wildlife and unique topography as well, here just two miles from the Canadian border and 18 miles from the Ohio mainland.

The proposed Lake Erie Islands Water Trails would give kayakers, canoeists, and other nonmotorized craft operators defined and detailed routes, with safe access points, to follow around North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass, and Kelleys islands, plus a section along the mainland coast that includes the Marblehead peninsula and Catawba Island.

Numerous sites with historical, environmental, recreational, and educational significance will be pinpointed with signage and described in literature outlining the trails, which essentially trace the shorelines of the islands and the Marblehead and Catawba areas on the mainland.

“People are already out here using the resource, so we want to concentrate this effort on getting information into their hands about all of the wonderful features and locations in the area,” said Lisa Brohl of the Put-in-Bay Township Park District, who also serves with the Lake Erie Islands Chapter of the Black Swamp Conservancy.

“This comes at a time when we’ve got new state parks at Middle Bass and North Bass and new preserve areas, so we want to get the word out and let everyone know a little more about the resources that are here.”

The concept for the water trail was hatched at least a couple years ago, and a series of public meetings in May gave island residents and interested parties the opportunity to comment on the project.

Andrea Irland of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program said the project seems to have gathered some momentum recently. She said the partnership with the organizations that own or operate the access points is essential and that only public lands will be used for access points.

“Sometimes it speeds up, and sometimes it slows down, but I think a number of parties are still very interested in seeing this all come together,” Irland said. “This is still a proposal and still tentative, but for now we are trying to confirm all of the access points and develop detailed descriptions of them. We would like to include historical and cultural information as much as possible.”

Brohl emphasized the importance of having a large collection of individuals and entities — federal, state, local, public, private, and nonprofit groups, plus private landowners — involved to bring the water trail project along. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is one vital partner, since many of the proposed access sites are managed by the ODNR.

“We need all of those agencies and partners involved, plus people on the different islands, so we get the best ideas and suggestions on how this should be done,” she said.

The PIB park district has applied for a grant to help with the cost of printing what Brohl said would be a “one-stop pamphlet people can go to and get the information” about the route and the numerous possible stops along the way.

The group working on the water trail project wants its publication to include information on wildflowers, wetlands, fish, wildlife, and the colorful history of the islands, plus a safety message and details on the many access points.

Brohl said paddlers following the trail will have the opportunity to get very close to the island shorelines and see things that power boaters and sailors will not be able to view from further away.

“If you are kayaking around the islands, you see the islands in a whole different way, and you get a unique sense of the islands,” she said. “There are so many things you won’t see any other way, such as geologic features, the unusual plant life, and our wildlife.”

Irland said the water trail will help create a new flotilla of people with a vested interest in preserving and protecting the environment by the islands.

“If it comes together, there are a lot of benefits to water trails, and one of the main ones is this gives people another opportunity to see the islands. Something like this will build stewards,” she said. “There is certainly an economic development aspect to this, as well. “This will bring another family-friendly, multirecreational opportunity to the islands.”

Brohl also expects the water trail to expose treasures many have never seen before.

“This will allow a much more intimate look at the islands,” Brohl said.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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