(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
The three nonprofit organizations that oversee the maintenance of the 88-mile stretch of the Shiawassee River Water Trail that runs from Holly to Chesaning – the Friends of the Shiawassee River, Headwaters Trails, and Keepers of the Shiawassee – have joined together to form the Shiawassee Water Trail Coalition (SWTC). The group’s goal is to establish the river as a National Water Trail, which would allow for improved access site conditions, increased tourism and economic development, and additional conservation resources.
The river runs through the villages and cities of Byron, Chesaning, Corunna, Fenton, Holly, Linden, Owosso and Vernon, and 11 townships. The 50-plus-member SWTC is comprised of representatives from local governments, businesses, chambers of commerce, and access site owners/managers.
The SWTC was created in 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the three organizations, and with funding assistance from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative Network, the SWTC created the Shiawassee River Water Trail Plan. As components of the plan, the SWTC has encouraged community feedback, completed a detailed field inventory, and is in the process of adding additional wayfinding signage and safety markers. The plan includes detailed standards of maintenance, nine agreed-upon goals, and an implementation schedule that takes into account any obstructions and portages along the river.
The goals for the future of the section of the Shiawassee River in question include promoting and improving river-related recreation, public access sites, and user experiences; informing and educating the public on topics related to river health, safety, and “Leave No Trace” principles; and supporting local and regional efforts to increase water-based recreation and tourism. As well as enhancing partnerships among water trail landowners and managers; preserving and protecting river resources for future generations; increasing connections between communities, public lands, and land trails; securing long-term sustainability of the water trail; maintaining access sites; and managing woody debris to support fish populations to allow for recreational access with minimal impact.
On May 1 of this year, the SWTC submitted an application to the National Park Service for the 88-mile section of the Shiawassee River to be considered for designation. The National Park Service is scheduled to inspect the river before the end of 2017 to review the Shiawassee River Water Trail Plan (SRWTP) and its implementation. A decision on National Water Trail designation should be made shortly after the inspection.
The SWTC has enlisted the help of Sarah McDonnell of the University of Michigan-Flint Outreach office, who is providing technical assistance to the group. The extensive SRWTP meets all seven of the Best Management Practices required for the National Park Service application, which include recreation, education, conservation, community support, public information, trail maintenance, and planning. And while the dams in Shiatown and Corunna are scheduled for removal before the end of 2018, the removal of all dams along the river is not required for designation to be granted. For anyone interested in following the progress of the SWTC, or volunteering to assist in clean-up or monitoring, information can be found by visiting the group’s website at www.shiawasseewatertrail.org.