Highlighting the bountiful water resources in Antrim County was one part of the mission in a more than year-long effort to create the Paddle Antrim Festival, scheduled for Sept. 16-17. The organizing group also has scheduled a number of shorter paddles this summer and fall, often in conjunction with other community events.
“They’re hour to 90-minute paddles to raise awareness and get people connected to the water,” said Deana Jerdee, executive director of Paddle Antrim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education, stewardship and accessibility on the chain of lakes just inland of Grand Traverse Bay. “We really feel that helps connect people to our communities,” she explained. The shorter paddles also highlight specific sites along the waterway as Paddle Antrim develops a formal water trail as part of a system that the Department of Natural Resources is eyeing statewide.
Participating in the inaugural paddle last year was more of a challenge than expected this year. Standing in a misty rain and a steady wind, Jerdee talked about how “great” the weather was for group’s Ellsworth-to-Elk Rapids paddle. Earlier that morning, it looked as though the kickoff of the two-day, more than 40-mile canoe/kayak festival from Ellsworth to Elk Rapids might not be in the cards. The weather forecasters were talking about possible thunderstorms and even stronger winds that would have forced cancellation of the event. So as 125 paddlers shoved off from the beach at the park, anything shy of small-craft advisories qualified as pretty good weather.
“We want to use paddle sports to help promote and protect our water resources,” said Jerdee. “It’s a beautiful continuous chain of small waterways and large waterways, beautiful flora and fauna, through an unspoiled natural area.” Fortunately, the temperature was pleasant enough for mid-September and the participants, from beginners to hardened long-distance paddlers, were champing at the bit to get going. The first leg, to Thurston Park on Central Lake, went off without a hitch.
The paddlers came from far and wide, and the majority of them had a pretty fair idea of what they were getting themselves into. William Jamieson, a 65-year-old safety and environmental officer with a home builder in Woodlands, Texas, said he was a casual kayaker, using a borrowed boat, paddling simply because a friend in Elk Rapids had invited him up for the event.
The winds did get up on the second day, so much so that organizers called the event when the paddlers reached Torch Lake.
“My shoulders didn’t argue a while lot,” Jamieson said. “I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been; I had a sit-on-top kayak and I’d never tried to paddle that far on one. If I do it again, I’m going to get a different kayak.”
For her part, Jerdee said the cancellation halfway through the second day was no more than a hiccup.
“We still had the celebration in Elk Rapids where we had food, Short’s Beer and music. We were extremely pleased with whole event. The paddlers were wonderful, the sponsors were wonderful and we were able to raise $20,000 for the organization. We’ve been able to initiate a grants program and disperse $4,000 in grants.”
The grants were awarded to local units of government and nonprofits to purchase equipment for water-rescue training and water-quality monitoring, among other things. As planning continues for a statewide water trail, Jerdee noted, “We’re working with the local units of governments to define which sites should be included in the trail as we develop a master plan.”
Bob Gwizdz is an award-winning outdoor writer who works for the Department of Natural Resources and resides in East Lansing.