In Our View: Water Trail: a Good Idea

Even with no hope for funding, local officials are smart to start planning

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Washington is paradise to different people for different reasons, many related to nature. Among these is the state's offerings for sublime motorless boating.Two examples: The Lower Columbia River Water Trail (http://www.columbiawatertrail.org) stretches 146 miles from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean. And the Cascadia Marine Trail (http://www.wwta.org) is similar in length, 140 miles of magnificent paddling from Olympia to the Canadian border.

Several local officials want to get in on the action. They're broke, at least when it comes to water trail development, but that destitution might be only temporary. And it hasn't stopped them from dreaming. As Erik Hidle reported in Wednesday's Columbian, Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation planner Jean Akers met earlier this month with city officials from La Center, Ridgefield, Vancouver and Woodland to discuss an official 32-mile water trail from the Lewis River in Woodland to Vancouver Lake.

Kudos to all involved for the forward thinking. Using existing waterways, the trail "development" at first would involve little more than signs designating the official route, but with a properly aimed marketing campaign, a water trail could become a tourist attraction. Later, more than 30 water-access improvements could be made, some with Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades, perhaps even involving land acquisitions.

But now we're getting ahead of ourselves and we're certainly getting ahead of the budget, which is nonexistent. But it's not too early to start planning. We suspect the Lower Columbia River and Cascadia water trails began without budgets, but a quick visit to either website will show how those two dreams became glittering realities.

Could a Lewis River-Vancouver Lake Water Trail make much of an impact on the local economy? There's no accurate projection, but it's worth researching. And even if it becomes a break-even proposition, there's another factor to consider, described by Gail Alexander in Hidle's story. Alexander, who owns Ridgefield Kayak, is unsure about any economic benefit, but she knows a water trail "connects the community and the wildlife component… when you think about the fact that the majority of people love our natural environment, and we just don't get enough of it."

Two other advantages are seen in an official water trail. Such a designation, with a well-designed website, would coordinate kayaking and canoeing activities in ways that prevent confusion among the hobbyists. Second, the importance of paddling safety would be emphasized. To wit, the Lower Columbia River Water Trail's website warns that "high winds, fog, storms and other dramatically changing conditions on the lower Columbia can transform a seemingly easy paddle into a dangerous and even life-threatening situation." It's good to have that information available to the public, and a website would help paddlers meander between Woodland and Vancouver Lake and among many scenic spots in between.

Akers, the parks planner, told the city officials, "The question for all of you: Is there a call to action?" That remains to be seen, and in the current economic climate, there is no hope (nor should there be for now) for public funding of a water trail. Perhaps private-sector funding sources can be found.

Those uncertainties, however, shouldn't obstruct early planning, and it appears local water trail visionaries are not afraid to put their figurative paddles in the water.