A water trail is a network of launches, safe shelters, rest areas, lodging and food services, as well as rustic or commercial campsites. This navigable trail has been conceived for small boats with a low draft, mainly sea kayaks. The water trails are charted, but not marked out.
Le St. Lawrence Water Trail
In 1984, M. André Bergeron launched the idea of creating a water trail on the St. Lawrence River. Even though there are more than 40 water trails in North America, the first established trail was the Maine Island Trail. This trail, managed by the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA) has become the reference model for the St. Lawrence Water Trail. At first glance, the MITA is impressive for its rigorous organisation as well as the sheer number of volunteers mobilised throughout the years. Over twenty years later, a sense of belonging and pride in this water trail has developed in entire the community of volunteers, members, and employees as well as in the general population.
Many water trails have been developed in wild and often fragile environments, in zones frequented by summer vacationers or very urban sections like the Hudson River Water Trail that opens up to Manhattan. In Eastern Canada, there are presently a few projects either active or in development. Among them are Thousand Islands Water Trail in Ontario, Nova Scotia Water Trail and the Saguenay Water Trail. In Quebec, many nautical outdoor activities are practiced on the St. Lawrence River, making encounters with many different types of users a high probability. Among others, many ecotourism companies initiate summer vacationers to the beauty and riches of the St. Lawrence. Trips are often organised during the summer season in order to observe marine wildlife and littoral gems. Some of the regional companies offer sea kayak, sailing and other courses along the coast. In this respect, the Water Trail belongs to whole community. In order for this project to work, respect between the different users remains essential.
The Users: Who Are They?
Water Trails are generally conceived in regards to the smaller users of the St. Lawrence, mainly sea kayakers, without excluding the possibility of others. Information gathered from the United-States has demonstrated that recreational sailors, canoeists and other types of boaters have an increasing interest in the development of Water Trails. On the other hand, the safety needs of kayakers are greater than the ones of other boaters that can travel further distances like sailboats.
The idea behind a Water Trail is to approach nature as is, without modifying it or leaving traces of our passage as per our code of ethics. In this respect, avoiding the installation of permanent structures, like tables, benches and signs that deface the natural environment remains an important preoccupation. These structures often become the target of vandalism and may even be carried away by ice floes. In very rare circumstances, the use of permanent structures, for example tenting platforms or ecological outhouses, may be installed if the environment is too fragile, or risks being abused.