Best Management Practices - The Island Loop Route

 

Trail Mission Statement

The mission of the Island Loop Route is to provide a safe, unique and exciting recreational experience for residents and visitors of all abilities to enjoy as they navigate four distinct water bodies in St. Clair County.

 

Recreation Opportunities

There are seven established water access points along the Island Loop Route, and several more that could be improved upon. Maps are available on-line that show the water access points, lengths of the trail, and facilities and services along the way. There are five public parks along the Island Loop Route, four with water access appropriate for kayak launch. The route also passes two public boat ramps that are ideal for kayak entrance or exit. There are also several access points at 'right-of-ways' where a public road ends at the water's edge, but parking is not optimal at these locations.

There are many festivals and events that take place along the Island Loop Route, or part of it. The most popular and longest running is the Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race (see attached website). Just completing its 88th year, the Port Huron to Mackinac sailboat race is sponsored by the Bayview Yacht Club (Detroit) and is the longest consecutively held freshwater race. The St. Clair County Health Department has been conducting River Day (see attached website, flyer, poster) activities along the rivers of the county for eight years. River Day always coincides with the Michigan DNR free fishing weekend. Activities typically include: free fishing clinics, art on the river, swimming safety, wastewater treatment plant virtual tours, kids fishing derby, native plant sale, park tours, household hazardous waste collection and paddling events. The Black River Canoe Race (see attached website, picture) is an annual event held on the Black River for the past six years in June. There are several courses in this professional canoe race, all of which are along a portion of the Island Loop Route. Racers come from all over Michigan and the Midwest to compete in the race.

Other events occur along the Island Loop Route, such as the “Paddle and Pour” (see attached flyer), an event organized by the Blue Water Social Club. The group kayaks the entire 10 mile loop, and then meets in a restaurant for food, drink and a live band! Another event that occurs each year in August is called the 'Float Down' (see attached pictures). This activity begins with thousands of people entering the headwaters of the St. Clair River at Lighthouse Beach and then floating down river in various floatation devices for a distance of eight miles to the city of Marysville. Thousands of people participate in the 'Floatdown' while thousands more watch the activities from shore. The yearly event is so large that the U.S. Coast Guard shuts down the International Shipping Channel for several hours so the "floaters" can navigate safely downstream. The Coast Guard is assisted by the St. Clair County Marine Patrol, Customs and Border Patrol, and volunteer first responders.

 

Education

The Great Lakes Maritime Center at Desmond Landing offers a variety of opportunities to learn about the maritime history and current events of the Great Lakes. Video formats, displays, and speaker programs present a wide range of information. They also announce passing freighter traffic’s source and end destination, as well as cargo type.

The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is at the base of Lake Huron as it pours into the St. Clair River. It is the oldest Lighthouse in Michigan and was built in 1829. There are tours of the grounds offered and outbuildings of this interesting park. The Thomas Edison Depot Museum sits at the base of the Blue Water Bridges, connecting Michigan to Canada. The museum enhances visitor appreciation for the life and genius of Thomas Edison and his boyhood home in Port Huron. Discover a re-creation of young Edison's mobile chemistry lab and printing shop. The Island Loop Route traverses past this landmark. Grounded permanently in Pine Grove Park, the Huron Lightship was the last operating lightship on the Great Lakes, and served for over 50 years when she was retired in 1970. It is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark. The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Thomas Edison Depot and the Huron Lightship are all part of the Port Huron Museum. Each one of these important landmarks is along the Island Loop Route. The St. Clair County Health Department has been conducting River Day activities along the rivers of the county for eight years. River Day always coincides with the Michigan DNR free fishing weekend. Activities typically include: a free fishing clinic, art on the river, swimming safety, wastewater treatment plant virtual tours, kids fishing derby, native plant sale, park tours, household hazardous waste collection and paddling events. It is a nice balance of recreation and education.

 

Conservation

Water monitoring in the waterways of the county occur through seasonal Beach Water Monitoring performed by the Environmental Health Division of the St. Clair County Health Department. Beaches and public swimming areas' water quality are sampled several times every week during the swimming season. Another source of water monitoring is the continuous Port Huron to Erie Drinking Water Monitoring System, which provides continuous water sampling at water intake facilities along Michigan’s southeastern water border, protecting the drinking water quality for over 4 million people. There are many years of historical data. Bi-national Public Advisory Council (BPAC) was established in 1988 to monitor the water quality of the St. Clair River. BPAC is an International group, formed with members from Michigan and Ontario in response to the International Joint Commission (IJC) designating the St. Clair River as an Area of Concern (AOC). The group has worked diligently over the last 24 years to address specific water quality issues of the St. Clair River AOC.

The Friends of the St. Clair River is an all-volunteer registered Canadian charitable organization. Its purpose is to promote conservation, beautification and other environmental activities associated with the St. Clair River, and assist in the development and implementation of the St. Clair River Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

Michigan Sea Grant, NOAA, MDNR, USGS and other partners are constructing rare Sturgeon spawning habitat (see attached fact sheet) in the southern portion of the St. Clair River. The goal of this project is to enhance fish reproduction and help rebuild native fish populations. Project partners will restore an acre of fish spawning habitat by constructing and studying nine rock reefs in the Middle Channel of the St. Clair River (not along the Island Loop Route). An area under the Blue Water Bridge along the Island Loop Route is the most successful Sturgeon spawning habitat in the Great Lakes. As many as 30,000 Sturgeon will spawn at this site!

The Island Loop Route is contained within the Northeastern Watersheds. The Northeastern Watersheds are made up of three subwatersheds; the Lower Black River, Lake Huron Direct Drainage and the St. Clair River Direct Drainage watersheds. They make up approximately 31% of the total land in St. Clair County draining 144,000 acres. The Northeastern Watershed has an active Northeastern Watersheds Advisory Group. The group monitors actions and events that occur within the watershed.

 

Community Support

There is demonstrated community support for Blueways of St. Clair water trails in the Clay Township Master Plan 2012, as well as the St. Clair County Master Recreation Plan, 2012-2016. The Friends of the St. Clair River is an all-volunteer registered Canadian charitable organization. Its purpose is to promote conservation, beautification and other environmental activities associated with the St. Clair River, and assist in the development and implementation of the St. Clair River Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

There are many public parks along the Island Loop Route, but five specifically have unobstructed water access for a kayak launch, and two ramped boat launches. Two communities, Fort Gratiot Township and Port Huron Township, have accessible kayak launches that they maintain. Maintenance involves installing the launches in springtime, taking them out in the fall, and storing the launch during the winter. The launches are donated by the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission (PARC).

The St. Clair County Health Department, specifically the Environmental Health Division, has very active environmental stewardship programs such as: Pollution Solution Program, Storm Drain Labeling, Water Quality Table-top Exhibit, Newsletters, Road-Stream Crossing signs, Speakers Bureau, Seven Simple Steps to Clean Water Program, MDEQ Pollution Prevention Program, annual Earth Fair, annual River Day, Stream Clean program and Household Hazardous Waste Disposal. These programs offer residents many opportunities to participate in environmental stewardship.

A new Port Huron Township park opened up along the Island Loop Route in 2012. Bakers Field Park had a grand opening celebration on June 9, 2012. They installed their accessible Kayak launch in the spring to coincide with the park grand opening.

 

Public Information

The Blueways of St. Clair Website has trip planning information, photos, maps and points of interest (www.bluewaysofstclair.org).

There are 16 different paddling routes in 9 unique water bodies. Each water trail has its own web page with a Google map that contains points of interest that are near the water trail. The points of interest (assets) consist of places to eat, shop, sleep or camp, as well as museums and marinas. There are 736 assets around the 16 Blueways of St. Clair paddling routes. Each paddling route page has an aerial imagery map, showing water access points, length of the trail and skill level. The most popular route is the 10 mile Island Loop Route that traverses through the city of Port Huron and along the coast with Sarnia, Ontario.

Safety is important when recreating on the water, therefore, one will find links to the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Border Patrol, St. Clair County Marine Patrol Division and current weather links on every page. There is a Plan Your Trip tab to search the database for any point of interest. The website is a huge source of information about the Blueways water trails. There is also a mobile version of the Blueways website for smartphones.

We have created a Blueways of St. Clair brochure that highlights all 16 routes and the website. The brochure offers paddling tips and important local information. The back of the brochure can be attractively displayed, as it shows all 16 paddling routes. The website is a great source of information for those seeking paddling opportunities in the county The trails are in need of signage that marks water access points and on site trail markers. . Also, several water access points along the Island Loop Route need physical improvements like parking, proper walkways and restrooms.

 

Trail Maintenance

There are two accessible kayak launches along the Island Loop route. Local municipalities perform maintenance and seasonal installation of launches that are located at public park sites. Maintenance involves installing the launches in springtime, taking them out in the fall, and storing the launch during the winter. The launches are donated by the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission (PARC). In fact, PARC has a standing offer to any municipality in the county to purchase a kayak launch (valued at $25,000) as long as the municipality will maintain it. This partnership has worked out well for the residents of our region, as we now have four accessible kayak launches, and another planned.

For the specific accessible kayak launch, Water Trail managers were seeking a simple, vandal resistant, minimal maintenance, floating launch platform to serve both canoers and kayakers. Managers partnered with EZ-Dock to adapt their floating docks and personal watercraft equipment for paddlers and develop an accessible transfer bench to allow users of all abilities to easily launch and land their watercraft. Launches are installed in the spring after the spring thaw and removed from the water before winter.

 

Planning

The Metropolitan Planning Commission maintains the Blueways website. Each municipality maintains water access points and accessible Kayak launches within their parks. There is full support for the Island Loop Route from every municipality that it runs through. The water trails are viewed within county government as infrastructure, just as greenway trails are. The project was a partnership between the St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning Commission and the St. Clair County Parks and Recreation Commission. The project was possible because of a grant award from the Michigan Coastal Management Program, DEQ and NOAA.

In other planning initiatives, there is a Northeastern Watersheds Management Plan and a group that meets regularly. This Plan covers the waterways that make up the Island Loop Route. The Plan was completed in 2006.
The Blueways water trails are fully supported in the St. Clair County Master Recreation Plan, completed in 2012, and the Clay Township Master Plan, 2012.

The Island Loop Route is one of 16 water trails that make up the Blueways of St. Clair website. This route was chosen for application to the National Water Trail program due to its popularity among kayakers, its established and maintained water access points and the variety of important landmarks along the route.

The Blueways of St. Clair website (www.bluewaysofstclair.org) recently won an award from the Michigan Association of Planning, which is a chapter of the American Association of Planning. The Planning Excellence Award for Outstanding Innovation in Regional Planning by the Michigan Association of Planning (MAP/APA Michigan) was given out at its annual conference, Planning Michigan, on October 17th, 2012.

 

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Note:

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