Homer Alaska - Outdoors

Story last updated at 6:12 PM on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ideas afloat for Kachemak Bay water trail

Paddlers needed to investigate what exists and what could exist to connect dots for water recreation

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

A kayaker with a True North Kayaks tour paddle around Yukon Island.

While many were out working and playing on Kachemak Bay last Wednesday, a handful of Homer residents gathered at City Hall to talk about creating a water trail around it.

A water trail?

"A stretch of river, a shoreline or an ocean that has been mapped out with the intent to create an educational, scenic and challenging experience for recreational canoers and kayakers," is how the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program defines such a trail.

Water trails are found in a variety of forms all over the continent, including a few unofficial ones in Alaska, such as the canoe trails on Swan Lake and Swanson River and the ocean portions of the Shuyak Island State Park trail system near Kodiak.

As the Kodiak State Parks website explains, "Shuyak Island State Park is best explored through a combination of travel via both land and sea."

Locals and visitors know that is also the case here.

"Kachemak Bay is such an incredibly beautiful and easily accessible place to go and kayak. It's a resource I think is really underused," said local adventurer and photographer Taz Talley, who attended the recent meeting. "I think the water trail would be a great draw for a lot of people."

The Kachemak Bay Water Trail Association was loosely organized in June with a mission of developing such a trail around the 40-mile long saltwater gem.

The basic route would be 110-130 miles around the bay, with tentative put-in or camping spots on the Homer Spit; the airport access road; Miller's Landing; Fritz Creek; Cottonwood and Falls Creeks (on the north side of the state park); the switchback trail at the head of the bay; Bear Cove and Chugachik Island; Aurora Lagoon; south side state park trailheads (in Halibut Cove, China Poot Bay, Neptune Bay, Sadie Cove, Tutka Bay and elsewhere); and Seldovia. It also could continue around to Port Graham and beyond.

The water trail would designate appropriate landing spots and provide information about elements of the route, serving more as guidelines than a specific path.

The water trail association currently is in the process of assessing resources around the bay and applying for technical assistance from the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.

Association organizer Dave Brann said he's heard verbal support from a large number of diverse sources, but it will take time and more organization to formalize the trail. A meeting likely will be held in September to identify partners and sort out the to-do list.

In the meantime, boaters are encouraged to keep track of what they find along their travels in the bay. Any information about routes and haulout/camping locations could be used to create maps and informational brochures for the water trail guide as well as future publications like signs, wayside exhibits and a website.

The water trail guide would answer questions of land ownership and physical characteristics that can be intimidating to locals and visitors alike, such as: If you pull in, what's going to be there? How's the landing? Is it park or private? Is there potable water? What flora and fauna will I see?

Both primitive and established camping areas exist along the route, as do a range of lodges and personal cabins. While not everyone likes knowing where they'll sleep at night, a guide would be useful for people wanting to plan a specific trip.

"They know they can go from campsite or trailhead to trailhead instead of just wandering around hoping they can find a beach to camp on," said Kachemak Bay State Park ranger Roger MacCampbell.

He sees the water trail as a great fit with the state park, though funding even for routine expenses is sparse. Building and maintenance of water trail haulouts likely would start with the work of volunteers. MacCampbell said he looks forward to being able to build and improve facilities around the bay as resources become available.

Private land and lodge owners also could play a role in completing the trail and would benefit from the traffic it would bring.

Like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, which hikers travel end-to-end or in sections, the Kachemak Bay Water Trail would be an added incentive for people looking to experience Alaska waterways.

"An end-to-end trail appeals to a certain group of people. People will come to paddle it end to end just to say that they did it. Maybe not a huge number of people, but it's another level of tourism that's relatively easy to accommodate," Brann said.

Besides the potential economic value, the trail is another way to bring awareness to the environmental resources of Kachemak Bay and to promote being active outdoors.

The National Park Service cites environmental enhancement, community livability and personal wholeness as the guiding principles of water trails, which Brann said also promote partnerships, volunteerism, stewardship, safety, education, conservation and connecting people and places.

Paddlers are needed to gather information about what resources exist along the proposed route.

Landing site information forms are available by contacting Dave Brann at brann@alaska.net or through air and water taxi operators authorized to work in the park. A list may be found at dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/kbay/kbaytaxi.htm.

The public also is invited to the next Kachemak Bay Water Trail Association meeting, which will be held in September.

Lindsay Johnson may be reached at lindsay.johnson@homernews.com.