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A water trail should include segments of creeks, rivers, and lake routes that have a right of passage and the support of local governments and property owners. Canoes and kayaks are often described as the only modes of transportation that “leaves no trace” on the route that is followed. Paddlers typically pride themselves on the quietness of their craft and the minimal needs they have in paddling a waterbody.
The Indiana Supreme Court noted in State v. Kivett, 228 Ind.629,95 N.E. 2d 148 (1950) that the test
for determining navigability is whether a waterway “was available and susceptible for navigation according to the general rules of river transportation at the time Indiana was admitted to the Union (1816).” The Indiana Natural Resources Commission maintains an administratively created roster of navigable waters that can change over time as new legislative or judicial clarifications are made. The Nonrule Policy Documents of the Indiana Natural Resources Commission comment on the difference between ownership of a river bed versus the waters. These documents note that “determination of navigability is ultimately based on a judicial finding” but that, in addition, “legislative declarations have identified specific waters as being navigable.” These documents also note that “other legal foundations may authorize public usage. A prescriptive easement may exist. A waterway may be a public freshwater lake subject to IC 14-26-2 and 312 IAC 11-1 through 312 IAC 11-5. Pursuant to IC 14-29-8, the Natural Resources Commission may, by rule, declare a waterway to be a recreational stream.”
In addition, it would appear that local and state governmental jurisdictions and land trusts in Indiana that acquire title or easements to property on one or both sides of any creek, stream, or river would have the right to establish rules and regulations for the access to and use of that waterbody as it flows through their landholding. Cooperative intergovernmental efforts involving multiple properties could lay the groundwork for designating a water trail. This is often the organizational approach taken in other states throughout the country. Access to waterbodies at municipal, county, township, and state highway bridges, as well as from municipal parklands, public works sites, school sites, and other local government properties is key to the creation of effective water trails.
In Northwest Indiana, most water trails will start out as short stretches where there is local support to create a low key, quiet recreational opportunity without a lot of investment, but that provides profound natural and recreational experiences to school kids and families that haven’t had a chance to float down a creek that they otherwise only see when they cross on a bridge.
Northwestern Indiana’s Opportunity
One of the characteristics of the potential water trail system in Northwest Indiana is its great variety of landscapes and diversity of travel experiences. From short, fast-moving streams to historic voyageur routes, from Lake Michigan’s inland ocean swells to deep woods natural preserves, and from shallow neighborhood habitat corridors to peaceful community lakes, there’s an experience for everyone.
Small, shallow headwater creeks in many Northwest Indiana communities are well suited for local neighborhood use, school-based educational experiences, and training for inexperienced paddlers.
These small creeks aren’t typically identified in water trail plans and offer the potential to attract many more families and school children to a first-time paddling experience. The bigger rivers and larger inland lakes are already bordered by parklands or flood control lands that could, or already do, provide access for paddlers. The level of experience needed to paddle these rivers vary, depending on length of trip, depth and current speed, weather factors, and ability to handle river obstructions. Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline provides a lake kayaking route for the experienced paddler. In the near future, it will join with initiatives in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois to create a 1000-mile Lake Michigan Water Trail. With guides and trainers, the bigger rivers and Lake Michigan can be paddled by less experienced kayakers and canoeists to raise their level of ability.
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