GRAND RAPIDS (WWJ) — The West Michigan Environmental Action Council and Grand Valley State University will, over the next year, design the framework for a Lake Michigan Water Trail connecting Benton Harbor to Ludington.

Water trails are intended for non-motorized watercraft such as kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing, and are designed to foster an interactive, historical education experience.

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Existing trails can be found on the Great Lakes, as well as on inland waterways in Michigan. Several are well established, such as the section of Lake Michigan near Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Pictured Rocks area of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula.

“This will close a significant gap in the coastal trails network of the State of Michigan and the Great Lakes in general,” said Michael Scantlebury, associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Grand Valley State University and a West Michigan Environmental Action Council board member. “Our home stretch of coastline has some of the best cultural, historical, and natural assets in the region. A Lake Michigan Water Trail will be an incredible boon for recreation and tourism in West Michigan.”

Scantlebury said the water trail is a historic effort that can create an undivided voice for investment in, and protection of, West Michigan’s freshwater resources.

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The project will build on existing relationships in Lake Michigan coastal communities and engage the public in conversations about the economic, cultural and environmental impacts of the initiative. Community meetings will be held in the seven primary coastal population centers — St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, South Haven, Saugatuck/Douglas, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, and Pentwater/Ludington.

Grand Valley faculty, with the support of students, will be responsible for market and product assessment for this West Michigan Water Trail. Of particular interest are cultural and historic maritime resources such as lighthouses, shipwrecks, and other Great Lakes maritime heritage features.

The $200,000 project was made possible through a $95,000 grant from the Michigan Coastal Zone Management Program from the Office of the Great Lakes of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the federal Department of Commerce.

Specific objectives of the West Michigan Water Trail initiative include:
• Comprehensive plans for local and regional coastal trails, including research, surveys, and mapping to support the planning process
• Assessments of existing water trails to identify and analyze gaps, identify best practices, and recommend improvements
• Assessments of best practices in the promotion of coastal water trail recreation with the objective of developing and/or enhancing existing websites and other prioritized media that promotes coastal trail recreation opportunities

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Learn more about the initiative at