THE BENEFITS OF WATERTRAILS
Water trails have multiple benefits. For park programs, a river or creek represents a pathway that doesn’t have to be built from scratch; it just needs reasonably located access, good signage, and removal or portaging of obstructions. Thus, water trails are much less expensive to create than a paved trail. Most first-time paddlers are struck by the quietness and solitude of paddling down a stream, even in the midst of a developed landscape. The next most common reaction is typically surprise at seeing wildlife. Green herons, beaver, deer, multi-colored dragonflies, and butterflies are commonplace along a creek corridor. Short or long paddles is an invigorating healthful exercise, or paddlers can relax and just float with the current.
The potential Lake Michigan water trail, as well as water trails on the larger river systems of northwest Indiana, also open up opportunities to enhance the regional identity. Ecotourism, and “green” tourism are a rapidly expanding sector of the tourism industry. Northwest Indiana has substantial opportunity to create water trail routes on its larger water bodies that will attract paddlers from around the country. A well-developed water trail system is one of the recreational and quality of life features that corporate location specialists would market to corporations looking for places to expand employment facilities.
Education and training
A water trail network should be designed to be accessible to beginning and intermediate paddlers, as well as paddlers with advanced experience. Although there are basic paddling and portaging techniques that can be fairly easily learned, much of the training that new paddlers need is related to handling unexpected situations safely, paddling with a partner, and maintaining awareness of location and methods of communication. As paddlers gain experience, they usually like to try new waterbodies. Around the country, park and recreation departments are the typical primary providers of training for
less-experienced paddlers. The American Canoe Association (ACA) is a national organization that provides excellent guidance and support materials. Local representatives of the ACA may be available to help organize training classes.
One of the features of water trails is that it provides the opportunity for people with various levels of disability to participate. Because a canoe is commonly a two person craft, the lead paddler can travel with a blind partner or a developmentally disabled partner. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, the National Center on Accessibility, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago all recognize that paddling opens up recreational and experiential opportunities to people with disabilities.