by Lauren Karmo
Canoers and kayakers across metro Detroit will be able to enjoy the Clinton River as a newly recognized state water trail.
With three launch sites in Mt. Clemens and Sterling Heights, 72 of the 81.5 mile-long river has been deemed the ninth state water trail by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources after a decade-long effort by the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC), a nonprofit organization.
“Having a designation is important … and it also brings people into communities in many different ways,” said Anne Vaara, chief deputy for the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner and former executive director of the CRWC. Families can kayak safely together, there are locations where it’s ADA [American Disabilities Act] accessible, they can park, they can go into town and grab a bite to eat. There’s a lot of public benefits to kayaking for communities.”
Patrons of the Clinton River Water Trail can expect clean parks, well-marked trails, ADA compliant access points, green infrastructure, and community services, but it wasn’t always like that.
“A decade ago we had a vision that we wanted to join communities and people together to get better access to the river,” Vaara said, “so I would say the two biggest challenges were that there wasn’t enough access, and also there was quite a bit of woody debris in the river that was blocking people’s ability to kayak safely.”
Also around 2010, the CRWC created the Watertowns program in an effort to connect with local government officials in order to preserve, maintain and improve the areas the Clinton River runs through.
“We thought it would be a good way for communities to join together, find ways to work together and use the river safely,” Vaara said. “That opened up a lot of opportunities.”
Through the Watertowns program, local governments and the CRWC were able to develop eco-friendly infrastructure to keep the river from being polluted and its visitors safe.
According to watershed planner Chris Bobryk, the Watertowns program and the CWRC as a whole work to educate the community on the river, as well as provide stewardship and restoration for the watershed. Efforts from the CWRC, local governments and financial supporters help accomplish these goals.
“You don’t just get out of bed and say ‘Yeah, I think we’re gonna be a designated water trail today,’” Bobryk said. “It takes time and effort to really gather that information, to get stuff installed to help improve access to that river.”
The canoeing and kayaking community were also recognized as some of the biggest supporters of the Clinton River’s improvement in accessibility, safety and usage.
“[The designation] is a pat on the back for everyone that uses it.” Bobryk said. “The kayaking community are our eyes on the river. They are our first responders for the list of discharges, they let us know if things need to be cleared or picked up, and having that river designated acknowledges their effort, as kind of the people behind the scenes.”
Launch sites for canoers and kayakers are currently accessible at MacArthur Park in Mt. Clemens and Clinton River Park North and Rotary Park in Sterling Heights with more launch sites to be available in 2020-2021 in Clinton Township, Harrison Township, Orion Township, and Rochester Hills.