Mention "National Recreation Trail" and no one would be surprised if you immediately thought about taking a hike. But soon that tag will be attached to a watery route in Lake Michigan.
On June 4, National Trails Day, the Lake Michigan Water Trail will be officially designated as a National Recreation Trail. Marking that event will be the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association, the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association, and their partners and supporters with the dedication of the first 75 miles of shoreline as part of the NRT. The event will feature a sea kayak lake paddle beginning at 11:30 a.m. (CST) at Marquette Park in Gary, Indiana, paddling 4 miles to Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. A second paddling option, intended for recreational kayakers as well as canoeists, will begin on the Little Calumet River at the Miller Charter of the Izaak Walton League. Both trips will simultaneously travel to the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.
At 1:30 p.m. there will be a dedication ceremony highlighting the public, private, and non-profit organizations that supported the trail and an unveiling of the latest South Shore Poster, sponsored by NIPSCO, depicting the Lake Michigan Water Trail. In addition a biking event, the Region Ride 2011, will take place as part of the celebration.
The Calumet Citizens for Connecting Communities (C4) and the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) will be hosting their annual Ride. The ride will commence at Oak Ridge County Park, and after the dedication, the riders will retrace the route back to Oak Ridge County Park, for a ride total of 36 miles. The Region Ride is free to all who would like to participate and will begin at 10 a.m., and arrive in Portage by noon. Details can be found on C4’s website – www.cc4cc.org.
“The Lake Michigan Water Trail is a great example of collaboration between industries, local and federal government, non-profit agencies and public advocacy groups,” said Walter Lenckos, Porter County parks and recreation superintendent. “The result is a trail that all our residents can be proud of and that all of our visitors can enjoy.”
The Lake Michigan Water Trail is easily accessible to the more than 6 million people who live in the five counties adjacent to the trail, and the more than 9 million people in the region, according to Dan Plath, the Indiana representative for the Lake Michigan Water Trail Association and president of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association.
Mr. Plath added that Chicago and the Indiana Dunes attract tourists from around the world, ensuring that the trail is enjoyed by people from beyond the immediate region.
“The environmentally friendly and healthy use of human-powered watercraft allows paddlers to explore the lakeshore in a most intimate way,” he said. “Unsurpassed views of Chicago’s world class skyline and lakefront parks reward paddlers along Chicago’s entire lakefront.”
The Lake Michigan Water Trail Association has been created to develop and expand the trail by running annual events and partnering with public and private access site owners in the coordination of trail planning, safety, and management. Mr. Plath says his group will continue to foster the growth of this trail and get the word out to more potential users.
“We are dedicating this stretch, the first 75 miles of a trail that will be 1,600-miles long and will attract paddlers from around the world to paddle the shores of Lake Michigan. It is exciting for us to help spearhead this effort. Within a few years this trail will be the longest continuous water trail in the world,” he said.
As a prelude and kickoff to the National Trails Day celebration, Deputy Interior Secretary David J. Hayes will announce the designation of 41 trails that will be added to the National Recreation Trails System at a press conference be held in Chicago on June 2.