Did you know the United States has a National Water Trails System? Yeah, neither did I. It’s pretty neat, relying more on local, grassroots efforts rather than Government. It’s up to Congress to designate national scenic trails and national historic trails, but national recreation trails (including the aforementioned national water trails) may be designated by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture. To be designated (and thereby recognized as part of the National Trails System), the trails must be of local and regional significance. Once designated, management, upkeep, publicizing, and any associated costs of the national water trail falls on a local, state, or federal government agency; a nonprofit organization; or a combination thereof. Coordination and support for the overall National Water Trails System is handled by the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program.
As I’ve gotten more interested in paddling (an activity that can be done year-round here in the Midwest (with proper gear of course), this system of water trails came onto my radar. And….most of them are here in the Midwest! Of the 21 national water trails, 11 (more than half!) are here in the Midwest. What a cool discovery. These water trails are a natural for an interest that’s been growing for a few years, which is camping during multi-day paddling trips. Originally it had been my plan to do this via canoe, but there are a few of these trails that would be great on a stand up paddleboard as well, let alone a kayak.
Building up to multi-day paddling trips will take some time, and these water trails offer a great learning curve opportunity, from some shorter sections that can be paddled in a day to longer trips such as the Rock River Trail at 330 miles or the Alabama Scenic River Trail at 631 miles. Definitely something work aspiring to.