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Fall & Winter 1996
Fall & Winter 1996

Water Trails
Excerpt from Modern Water Trails
A guide to Establishing and Maintaining
Recreational Waterways on Fresh and Salt Water.

A New Generation of Trails

North American Water Trails Conference (NAWTC) started in 1993 to protect and to develop water trails.

The international surge of interest in water trails is a healthy mix of tradition and modern awareness. Water routes played a key role in the exploration and settlement of North America, but their purpose was quite different from water trails being developed today. A few small water routes, blessed with fine scenery, productive fisheries, exciting water conditions, or other stellar attractions, have continued to be used in modern times primarily as recreational waterways, but on the whole, there has been an overall decline in public knowledge of traditional routes.

Fortunately, this trend has reversed itself in recent years, in no small part triggered by rising concern over the growing lack of access of waterways while pleasure boating is on the increase. Not only are historical routes being researched and restored, but entirely new water trails have been established to take advantage of developments in boat design, changes in boating practices and a growing environmental awareness. Typical of the new routes are lengthy small-boat waterways along the seacoasts and Great Lakes, areas traditionally the province of yachts and larger pleasure craft.

What is a "modern water trail?" In contrast with traditional routes that were corridors of commerce and travel, the modern water trail is a recreational waterway on lake, river or ocean between specific points, containing access points and day use and/or camping sites for the boating public. A trail may include both public or private lands, with some or all of the later open only to users specified by the owners. Camping facilities on some water trails may be restricted to those traveling by self-propelled craft while other trails are open to any type of boat.

An important ingredient in the concept of nearly all modern water trails, and probably the most significant in its long-term effect, is an ethic of low impact use and stewardship of the lands and waters being used. In short, users assume a personal responsibility for the care of the resource.

Nearly all the water trails in operation today are the result of cooperation between private individuals, non-profit groups and agencies at all levels of government. The development process may be relatively simple or extremely complicated, depending on the length of the water trail, the type of shore and ownership involved, desired objectives and available funding. Invariably, the idea or vision of the trails proves easier in concept than in reality.

Land bordering water is some of the most valuable in North America, and much of it is privately owned. Convincing these owners, whether corporate or individual, that their sharing property with the boating public is in their best interests is not simple. Even publicly owned areas that would seem to be natural components of a trail may be under restrictions that limit or prohibit public use. As a result, a great deal of organizational ingenuity is required, making diversity the hallmark of modern water trails, with no two being exactly alike. Nearly all the water trails in operation today are the result of cooperation between private individuals, non-profit groups and agencies at all levels of government.

Modern Water Trails contains three sections:

1. a how-to-guide covering the five key steps in setting up a trail; planning, promoting, funding, organizing and operating.
2. a listing and description of many existing recreational waterways in North America.
3. resources that may prove useful to project managers.

North American Water Trails, Inc. is a coalition of public and private organizations and individuals dedicated to the:

1. preservation and improvement of the recreational waterways of North America;
2. furtherance of knowledge about the historical and environmental value of interior and coastal waters and of the shores, islands, tidelands, wetlands and uplands that define them;
3. education of the public in geology, oceanography, biology and ecology of these coastal and riparian habitats; and
4. sustainable development of water trails for the safety and convenience of paddlers, other small boat users and the public.

For more information on North American Water Trails, Inc., contact

    RR 1, Box 3355
    Appleton, ME 04862
Modern Water Trails is available for $10.00

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