Build infrastructure to guide kayakers

Traverse City’s move to build kayak access points along the Boardman River promises smoother sailing for a thriving recreation thoroughfare.

City commissioners this week supported a plan to designate an official river trail to connect the south end of Boardman Lake with the river mouth in Grand Traverse Bay.

The water trail, of course, already exists. It’s called the Boardman River, and it was there long before the city that grew up around it.

Action at the city level will focus not on the river itself, but on access points — those tender slivers of nature that separate water from land — and signage to guide paddlers to those access points least likely to cause environmental harm. Commissioners should protect the river’s banks by constructing that infrastructure.

They shouldn’t leave the important decision of where to enter the water to the hundreds of paddlers who will shove their boats into the waterway this summer.

The city’s best path forward is to establish, mark and maintain designated put-in and take-out spots for paddlers. Failure to do so could lead to spreading erosion in places where it could be difficult to repair.

If the city builds proper facilities for paddlers to put in their craft, some argue, more paddlers will flock to make use them. There is truth in that argument. But ignoring the growing influx of kayak traffic along the river won’t make it go away.

Kayaks on the river in summer are as common as snowflakes in a blizzard. Paddle traffic has been increasing along the in-town portion of the river, partly because water lovers have discovered the short-commute joy of paddling through downtown, but also because several watercraft rental businesses have sprung up to support growing demand.

Michigan waters are open to the public. The public is finding increasing delight in paddling over the river and through the lake. Water traffic will continue building, with or without proper facilities to support the influx.

Rather than allow the crowd to decide where to launch, where to step, where to create muddy gateways between water and land, the city should offer a guiding hand and create official launch areas to concentrate the traffic where it will do the least harm to our natural resources.

Traverse City Record-Eagle