St. Clair County establishes Michigan’s first National Water Trail – the Island Loop!

National Water Trails in Michigan! Where?

I-94 East will run you directly through Macomb County and into a stretch a farmland bound for development before a number of exits leading to coastal communities begin to sprout up. One of those communities, Port Huron, last on the stretch of pavement before reaching the doors to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada houses the Metropolitan Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission. A joint project between the two St. Clair County departments led to the designation Michigan’s first National Water Trail (NWT) in late 2013, one of fourteen in the country.

The Blueways of St. Clair resulted in the designation of the Island Loop, a 10.2-mile water trail that navigates around a number of water bodies and locations within St. Clair County, as well as between Canada and the United States. A number of attractions exist on the trail, such as views of the Blue Water Bridge connecting both countries, Michigan’s oldest lighthouse, both the Thomas Edison Museum and Huron Lightship Museum, as well as tranquility along the Black River for several miles.

Lori Eschenburg, a Planner with a GIS Specialty at St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning, says that designating a NWT is no easy task. There are “Best Management Practices” to be met, seven in all. In order to designate a trail criteria must be met for Recreation Opportunities, Education, Conservation, Community Support, Public Information, Trail Maintenance and Planning. In addition, Eschenburg pointed out that a NWT can be designated by an act of Congress, or by the Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Agriculture. Trails designated by government bodies are recognized by local and regional significance.

According to the National Parks Service, “The trails increase access to water-based outdoor recreation and contribute to the livability and economic vitality of local communities”. This is an excellent way for locals and visitors to the region to experience incredibly unique and rich resources found only in a dozen or so other locations around the country.

The Blueways of St. Clair has a number of paddling routes in addition to the Island Loop that water trail enthusiasts can embark on.

In addition to the Island Loop of St. Clair County, both the Red Rock Water Trail in Iowa and the Missouri National Recreation River Water Trail were designated in late 2013 as National Water Trails.

Michigan State University Extension has experts in tourism working throughout Michigan that can assist communities and counties in sustainable tourism development. 

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