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Paddling and Water Trails

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As with all trails, the user of the water trail can benefit greatly from detailed and objective information about what they can expect when they venture onto this stage.

arrow See more on a new workshop from American Trails on developing and managing accessible paddling trails.

arrow From the Spring 2010 issue of American Trails Magazine


Set the stage for accessible water trails

photo of man in wheelchair with canoe

Mike Passo teaching at the Water Trail Assessment and
Adaptive Paddling Workshop


You only get one chance to write your life story. In which case, I would suggest gathering worthy material at your local water trail. Sure, you could choose a regular old land trail, or (God forbid) your office cubicle as the setting for your life story, but frankly, it’s been done before.

A water trail guides you through the unscripted tangent of land and sea, taking all the best of both, and weaving a magical tapestry of mystical costal inlets, rocky lakeshores, meandering river banks, eerily quiet backwater sloughs, and impossibly bright sand beaches. Here is where you can find yourself refreshingly tucked away from the rest of humanity, providing the ideal environment for fostering creativity and forgetting conformity.

A little overly dramatic, you say? Well... maybe.

Now, one might wonder (with good reason) how do we get ourselves out to this magical setting? Admittedly, you cannot just throw on a pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots and hit the trail, as you can with a land-based trail. Water trails demand not only something upon which you can float, but they demand that you know how to use that float, as well as the dynamics of the water. I do not want to make light of this, because, as anyone that has tried to swim out through breaking waves or cross a fast moving stream knows, the power of water is astonishing and quite unexpected.

As with all trails, the user of the water trail can benefit greatly from detailed and objective information about what they can expect when they venture onto this stage. Let us review the critical elements involved in the successful use of a water trail.

Outfitters & trail managers– providing the boat

The local outfitter and agency manager is the first line of defense against uninformed or inappropriate use of the water trail. Outfitters and managers should be prepared to make people aware of the minimum level of knowledge and skill necessary to use a water trail (i.e. the “Essential Eligibility”). They should also have the equipment and adaptations necessary to help people of all backgrounds and abilities to participate successfully.

photo of man in wheelchair with canoe

The challenge: crossing over from the land to the water


If they are prepared to serve all kinds of people in a safe manner, the water trail becomes easy and inspiring to use, for everyone. An open, informed, and willing person answering the phone when a curious user calls makes a water trail much more accessible, right off the bat, without spending a dollar in physical upgrades.

Wind, waves & currents– what happens when the water moves?

Moving water is arguably the most enjoyable type of water. Unfortunately, it can also quickly sneak up and bite you! The key is knowing:
• Where and when the water moves
• How exposed you may be to that movement at any given time
• How to avoid being caught up in the movement when you are not prepared to be

A water trail manager or outfitter that can simply and succinctly convey this information at key points along the water trail, makes a water trail much safer and more usable to everyone.

Transition/access points– crossing the unscripted tangent

The greatest challenge for many people is crossing over from the land to the water. Mud, slick rocks, and steep banks are now combined with floating bits that have the annoying tendency to move away from you when you try to sit on them. Knowing that there is or is not a dock at a location, or that the path accessing the water is or is not gentle and wide enough for a boat to be carried are very important to the success of the day. Starting out a day on the water with a wet bum causes even the hardiest of souls to think twice about returning.

photo of people on boat ramp

Mike Passo discussing water access facilities

Obstacles– things that may break your boat (not to mention you)

This may be a little self-evident, but you will probably like to know about the things that can run you over, drown you, or just make your water trail life miserable. These can be anything from hordes of mosquitoes, to wind and current, to 900 foot super tankers traveling at 30 knots. You can avoid them, but only if you know they are there. What’s a good story without a few obstacles, anyway?

Facilities– answering nature’s call, among other things

Where do I park? Where do I camp? Where do I refill my water? Knowing that your basic needs will be taken care of can be the difference between deciding to accept a new adventure, or clinging to the home front. The truth of the matter is that many people will not venture out if they think their only option for answering nature’s call involves anything remotely close to a bush and the softest leaves they can find. We are a fickle society. Armed with this information, you are ready to explore the world’s water trails. The perfect setting. Unique characters. An ever changing plot. What are you waiting for? This puppy isn’t going to write itself.


Water Trail Workshop offered by American Trails

American Trails is proud to offer the Water Trail Assessment and Adaptive Paddling Workshop. This new course is designed to help water trail managers and outfitters improve opportunities for people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy water trails. The workshop includes a half day indoor instruction, followed by a half day of on-the-water training in adaptations and programmatic access. Call the America Trails office to learn more and to schedule a training in your area: (530) 547-2060 or email

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