2017-02-23 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Nudge in right direction


Phil Foley — Staff Writer Phil Foley — Staff Writer The weather over the past few days have gotten me a little itchy. The ice on Elk Lake is milky and Saturday afternoon there were great pools of water on it, giving the illusion it was open, but I know it will be a few weeks before the water is thin enough to think about taking the canoe down off the rack.

I’ve always liked small boats. Growing up, my hometown was rock throwing distance from Milford and the Huron River. Until I was old enough to have wheels of my own, I had to content myself with the annual Boy Scout canoe trip “Up North” and a week at Scout camp.

I didn’t get my first canoe until I ran across a failed canoe rental after I got my first newspaper job. The guy had bought a fleet of Sawyer cruisers, which are quick and nimble boats, but terrible to rent to people who go canoeing once a year.

That boat has out lasted four cars and an ex-wife. Turned out to be a lot more fun and dependable than all of them.

Once I had wheels there were three places to rent canoes in Milford — Wolynskis, Heavners and Village Canoe. The last two are still in business, but when Bill Wolynski decided to retire after nearly 43 years, there was no one to take over the business and grass grew over the path from his house to the river.

They were/are all small family-owned businesses, but paddle sports is not chump change. Paddlers, according to a recent National Park Service study, spend between $27 and $68 a day when they’re away from home. For communities along the Kickapoo River in rural southwest Wisconsin that means about $1.2 million annually. Closer to home, the Huron River has a $50 million economic impact on the 26 communities along its 104-mile arcing path around

Detroit from Wixom to Lake Erie in Brownstown Township.

That’s why efforts by Peter McCreedy and the Flint River Watershed Coalition (FRWC) to draw more attention to the Flint River makes so much sense.

Not long ago an entrepreneur tried, and failed, to make a go of it with

Paddles to Peddles in

Columbiaville. It could have been he was just ahead of the curve or he wasn’t very good at it. It’s hard to tell, but the basic idea was sound.

When I worked in Florida a major kayak outfitter from Maine noticed most of the customers went diving in the winter and they opened a shop on Key Largo. It lasted barely a year. Today, though, shops selling and renting sea kayaks and stand-up paddle boards are everywhere.

Timing is everything.

McCreedy and the FRWC would like to see the river categorized as a National Water Trail. This could lead to funding to improve access to the river. McCreedy and Joe Leonardi have spent more than a decade leading efforts to improve navigation for small boats along the river.

They’ve made yeoman efforts and there are more canoes and kayaks on the river than ever before. But National Water Trail status just might be the spark to get something going, especially in the Columbiaville area.

Will it turn Columbiaville into a Mio or Oscoda? Not likely any time soon. But it just might nudge it in the right direction.

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