Waterfront Access in the Pacific Northwest

A Place on the Banks
  |  Gorp.com

Imagine after an exhilarating, long, and tiring day of maneuvering your sleek kayak through a series of rapids, you decide to take a break from the action and rest up on shore. A bathroom run, a Gatorade and carrot sticks, and a nice stretch will do your mind good, not to mention what it will do for your fatigued body, so you can safely continue your run. You paddle along the shoreline to find a safe and convenient place to come ashore and discover "No Trespassing" signs, one after the other, along the water trail.

The "NO TRESPASSING" sign in bold face capital letters stands as cold and stern as the royal guards at Buckingham Palace for many water enthusiasts throughout the country.

And more and more those unwelcoming signs are popping up along water access routes near many of the country's metropolitan areas as a result of urban sprawl. This is particularly true in Washington State, where urbanization is gripping many of the state's shorelines, limiting access and rapidly changing the pristine nature of the waterways.

Washington Water Trails Association, a non-profit organization that celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, is in the front lines of the battle over public and private access along the waterways within Washington and the Northwest.

WWTA works hard to ensure that the public has an accessible and sustainable water resource to enjoy by human and wind-powered watercraft through the creation and maintenance of water trails in Washington State. The creation of the water trails is a three-pronged process.

"Nothing stays the same," said Mary Monfort, Executive Director of WWTA. "It's important for us to keep posted of changes within the community and along the state's water trails so we can keep access open."

Defining a water trail is the first step. WWTA defines it as a network of access points and safe havens for users of human-powered and beachable wind-powered watercraft on marine and inland waterways. The challenge is creating enough of these spots along the trail to allow safe travel from one site to another in a single day.

Access is not only important from a recreational standpoint; it also reveals some threatening environmental conditions that otherwise would not be visible, such as the spread of Spartina, a menacing plant, or the infestation of green crabs which threaten the ecological balance of the Puget Sound.

Taking inventory of the water body, then deciding what is appropriate activity for the trail—either non-motorized watercraft, motorized craft or general use—is the next step. Who will maintain the trail once it is established has to then be decided amongst government agencies, park systems, non-profit organizations such as WWTA, and in some cases, state tourism and rural development associations.

The next step is, inevitably, conflict resolution. "Many property owners along some of the proposed water trails may resist legal access to the water or may not want boaters launching near their property," Monfort said. "We talk with them and see if there is some compromise that can be made."

In case after case, officials from both sides of the issue try to make trade-offs between public and private finances, and among competing visions of developers, politicians, and residents.

This year, one of WWTA's water trails was designated by First Lady Hillary Clinton as one of the first 16 National Millennium Trails. The Cascadia Marine Trail, first designated as a water trail in 1993, is enjoyed by canoeists, kayakers and other watercraft as they explore the beauty of Puget Sound and the grandeur of Mount Ranier. It follows the wake of inlets and coves that originally marked a Native American water-trade system. The trail now has over 35 camping sites throughout Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. In addition, many innkeepers along the trails offer a cozy nook for the night, an alternative to a rugged night in a tent.

Fostering a sense of adventure and educating small-boat travelers as they explore the water trail is one of the main goals of WWTA, and continues to be the focus as they set their sights on creating and supporting the development of other water trails through the state of Washington.

These initiatives include the establishment of the Willapa Bay Trail, a potential partnership with Oregon State for development of a historic Lewis and Clark Water Trail along the Lower Columbia River, and possible water trails in places such as Ross Lake, Lake Chelan, or the Upper Columbia River.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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