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August 18, 2013

Paddling trail mapped along 800 miles in Southeast

You may never be inclined to paddle a canoe or kayak from Virginia to Florida. But if the urge hits, an unbroken saltwater trail along 800 miles of the Southeastern coastline has now been mapped out for you.

The Southeast Coast Saltwater Paddling Trail maps a route, along with scenic spur routes, along the coast between the Chesapeake Bay and Saint Mary’s, Ga.

It also provides the location of water access points and places one can find food, supplies, lodging or camping. The trail, five years in the making and unveiled in April, also connects with other paddling trails to the north and south.

The information is provided on one interactive website. In the past, paddlers would have to find the information on numerous sites, publications and brochures.

The trail is a joint project of state, federal and local governments that consulted with private groups and paddling enthusiasts in mapping the routes.

The project started when the Coastal Georgia Regional Commission, working with the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service, began mapping a trail in Georgia to connect with the existing Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake Nation Historic Trail had also been mapped to the north.

So it made sense to connect Florida and Virginia trails through the Carolinas and Georgia, said Charlotte Gillis, who works with the Park Service assistance program in Atlanta.

“Before this you were on your own. You had to look at North Carolina for their stuff and look at three or four different websites. The same for South Carolina,” she said. “We really wanted to bring the four states together. We put a lot of data on the same map, and it took some time to put that all together.”

There are only a few places where the trail runs along the oceanfront, said Matt Moldenhauer, the land resource manager for the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission who helped map the routes through the Charleston area.

“The first rule is since people are using canoes and kayaks and paddleboards, the trail goes through protected water bodies,” he said.

Gillis said one of the goals was to have camping, accommodations and places to get supplies about every 10 miles, about the distance for an average day’s trip on a kayak or canoe.

“We did our best to have places where people could get off and camp and get off the water safely. We couldn’t do it everywhere. That is in our next phase. This is our backbone, if you will, to build upon,” she said.

The next phase is also to develop a smartphone app linking to the website so paddlers can take it with them on the water.   

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, an industry trade group, an estimated 22 million Americans canoe, kayak or paddleboard.

Kathie Livingston, the owner of Nature Adventures Outfitters in Mount Pleasant, S.C., helped map trail routes through Charleston area waterways.

“It definitely brings a new awareness of paddling opportunities,” she said. “It brings along with that an environmental consciousness of our different waterways and what we need to protect. A kayak is the least invasive way to use those waterways without boat motors and things like that.”

It also makes it easier for those who want to participate in paddle sports, whether just for a day or for more extended trips, while helping local economies.

“Everyone who is coming to paddle is going to have to eat somewhere and get gas somewhere and stay somewhere. It’s a wonderful way of sharing all that information,” she said.

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