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Paddling and Water Trails

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The National Water Trails System was established by the Secretary of the Interior as a class of National Recreation Trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968.

arrow Learn about the National Water Trails System designation process

arrow Read about the National Recreational Blueway Trails Initiative

arrow See more resources on water trails

 

An overview of the National Water Trails System

 

From coast to coast, and on many coasts in between, people are out exploring our nation’s waterways. A new national network of exemplary water trails is expected to increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

photo of ribbon cutting on river bank

Celebrating the designation of the Willamette River Water Trail in Oregon

On February 29, 2012, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar created the National Water Trails System to launch a new national network of exemplary water trails that will increase access to water-based outdoor recreation, encourage community stewardship of local waterways, and promote tourism that fuels local economies across America.

National Water Trails are designated by the Secretary and are part of the National Trails System. Water trails must be cooperatively supported and are intended to strengthen local efforts for recreation, conservation, and restoration of America’s waterways and surrounding lands.

“Rivers, lakes, and other waterways are the lifeblood of our communities, connecting us to our environment, our culture, our economy, and our way of life,” Secretary Salazar said. “The new National Water Trails System will help fulfill President Obama’s vision for healthy and accessible rivers as we work to restore and conserve our nation’s treasured waterways.”

In the system’s first year, the Secretary designated nine national water trails across the country: the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Water Trail, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area Water Trail, Alabama Scenic River Trail, Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail, Mississippi River Water Trail - Great River Water Trail, Bronx River Blueway, Hudson River Greenway Water Trail, Kansas River Trail, and Willamette River Water Trail.

photo of canoe with kids and man paddling

Paddling on the Willamette River Water Trail

 

Applying for Designation

Secretary Salazar signed a Secretarial Order that establishes national water trails as a class of National Recreation Trails under the National Trails System Act of 1968. The order provides the framework for Secretarial designation of water trails that will help facilitate outdoor recreation on both urban and rural waterways, and provide national recognition and support to designated water trails.

To apply for designation, trail managers must fill out an application and obtain landowner permissions and broad support from their communities and state trail administrators. The application needs to demonstrate how the trail achieves the following best management practices:

Recreation Opportunities: The water trail route has established public access points that accommodate a diversity of trip lengths and provide access to a variety of opportunities for recreation and education.

Education: The water trail users are provided with opportunities to learn about the value of water resources, cultural heritage, boating skills, and outdoor ethics.

Conservation: The water trail provides opportunities for communities to develop and implement strategies that enhance and restore the health of the local waterways and surrounding lands.

Community Support: Local communities provide support and advocacy for the maintenance and stewardship of the water trail.

Public Information: The public is provided with accessible and understandable water trail information, including details for identifying access and trail routes; cultural, historic, and natural features; hazards; and water quality. The water trail is promoted to the community and broad national audience.

Trail Maintenance: Demonstrate ability to support routine and long-term maintenance investments on the water trail. Facilities are designed, constructed, and maintained incorporating sustainability principles.

Planning: Maintain a water trail plan that describes a vision, desired future conditions, and strategies to strengthen best management practices.

Applications for designated water trails serve as models for other trail managers to emulate best management practices. The key for the system’s long-term success lies in the ability of the water trail community to become a network of mentors and promoters of the National Water Trails System.

 

Looking Forward

Designated water trails serve as models for other trail managers to emulate best management practices. The key for the system’s long-term success lies in the ability of the water trail community to become a network of mentors and promoters of the System. Currently, the Interagency Water Trails Team is working to designate additional exemplary water trails, develop a mentorship program to support water trail managers, share best management practices, and revise a riverside access manual that gives examples of boat launches and designs for access points.

photo of kayaks on big river

along the Alabama Scenic River Trail; photo by Callie Thornton

 

Current list of designated water trails:

 

Chattahoochee River National Water Trail

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, a linear park in the Atlanta-metro area includes 48 miles of river, 70 miles of hiking trails, and 18 developed access areas.

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area Water Trail

The trail provides a unique outdoor experience that is as diverse as the historic, cultural, and natural locations it flows through.

Alabama Scenic River Trail

The Alabama Scenic River Trail is the longest river trail in a single state. It passes through the heart of Alabama from northeast to southwest and in doing so, takes boaters through a wide variety of terrain, flora and fauna. 

Mississippi River Water Trail (MRWT) Great River Water Trail

The MRWT Great River Water Trail is deeply rooted in natural scenic beauty, Native American heritage, and cultural history.

Bronx River Blueway

The Bronx River Blueway passes directly through the New York Botanical gardens, the Bronx River Forest,

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail

The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail is designed for day-users as well as long-distance paddlers. It includes 94 designated access sites, wildlife marshes, islands, historic sites, cities, downtowns, and hiking trails.

Kansas River Trail

The Kansas River offers outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and cultural opportunities, appropriate for novice boaters and families. The River also provides areas for picnicking, wildlife viewing, fishing, and relaxing.

Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail

The Missouri National Recreational River Water Trail contains some of the last remaining natural stretches of America's longest river.

Island Loop Route

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, Michigan. 

Black Canyon Water Trail

The Black Canyon Water Trail is located along a rugged and remote portion of the Colorado River in Arizona and Nevada within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail

The Kitsap Peninsula includes 371 miles of coastline on the Puget Sound in Washington State.

Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trails

These wilderness canoe trails offer opportunities to view wildlife, wet prairies, cypress forests, and pine uplands. Canoeing, kayaking, and motorboating are permitted year-round on marked trails.

Willamette River Water Trail

The Willamette River Water Trail flows through rural and urban landscapes, providing scenic, cultural, e

Waccamaw River Blue Trail

The Waccamaw River Blue Trail extends the South Carolina portion of the Waccamaw River meandering 100 miles through protected bottomland hardwood swamps of the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

Rock River Water Trail

The Rock River Water Trail runs 330 miles from the headwaters above the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in south central Wisconsin to the Mississippi River at the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa.
Red Rock Water Trail

The 36-mile Red Rock Water Trail is located on Lake Red Rock near Pella and Knoxville, Iowa.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The National Park Service coordinated creation of an interactive website to promote and support the new system and trails. Water trail managers can learn best management practices and apply for designation online, and visitors can learn more about designated trails through a photo gallery, dynamic stories, and videos. An interactive map and new search functions make it easy for users to find national water trails. See www.nps.gov/WaterTrails.

The National Water Trails System is administered by the National Park Service with guidance from a wide range of federal agencies. For more information, contact Corita Waters, National Park Service, at (202) 354- 6908.

 


 

arrow See background on the National Recreational Blueway Trails Initiative

arrow Download the Secretarial Order establishing the National Water Trails System (pdf 659 kb)


For more information on National Recreation Trails:

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